THERE’S A GADGET FOR THAT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This past weekend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas.  It’s a major event for high tech companies; an opportunity to showcase their latest innovations and launch trial balloons on some pretty goofy gadgets.  I love technology, although the relationship is not always reciprocated.  My language while trying to fix our computer, iPad, Direct TV or cell phone systems would make a sailor blush.  But still, I am fascinated by gadgets so it is with more than a passing interest that I follow the CES each year to see what’s on the horizon.  For those of you who are sensible and don’t pay any attention to this stuff let me give you a bit of background.  CES was started in 1967 in New York and featured such marvels as pocket radios, the Scottie record player (pictured) and the first TV’s with integrated circuits.  Integrated circuits meant that TV’s no longer had those blasted tubes, which invariably blew out right before the Ed Sullivan Show or Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports.  Each time a tube faded out it required the services of a repairman to come and replace it.  Or at least it did in our house because our dad could barely tell a screwdriver from a hammer.

                            Kuri – the nag

Over the years the CES has become the place for companies to showcase their latest inventions.  It has featured such advances in technology as the cordless phone (remember when we had ONE phone in the house and it was attached to a wall?!)  and the cassette tape, which eliminated vinyl records from the mainstream for decades.  This week I’ve been reading about the trends for the coming year.  They range from the scary to the ridiculous.  First, virtual reality seems to be huge, with phone attachments and special glasses that can sweep you into another dimension.  I guess given all of the drama of 2016 maybe a little “virtual” in our reality isn’t such a bad thing.  The other popular trend is robotics.  There is the Kuri, a home robot that has a cute little face and will perform tasks or provide information at your command.  It can autonomously patrol around the house and – get this – has its own unique personality.  Somehow that seems just the slightest bit creepy.  Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Westworld but I am highly suspicious of a robot with personality.  Oh sure, at first it’s bringing me my newspaper and giving me the answer to who starred in On the Waterfront, but what stops it from telling me that I shouldn’t have that second helping of chocolate cake?  Or that I really should clean up the mess in the kitchen before I sit down to read.  With my luck I’d get a Kuri that had the “personality” of a nag.   I think I’ll stick with Dash the Wonder Dog getting my newspaper for now.

There are all sorts of “connected” gadgets this year – ones that hop onto your wireless network and interact with each other or with you, even in your sleep.  The Sleep Number company has a new bed that can sense what you’re doing all night long and make adjustments.   It will automatically adjust if you snore, add an automatic night light on the bed if you get up in the middle of the night,  and pre-warm the mattress to toast up your feet on a cold night. It also connects to an app to offer information on how you’re sleeping.  Do we really want a machine “sensing” what we’re doing all night long?  Just imagine if your local neighbor’s 15 year-old hacked your system and sent that information around the neighborhood?  Or worse, if somehow the Sleep Number bed and Kuri teamed up.  Maybe a robot’s idea of fun is to goof around with the Sleep Number elevation system.  You’d be bobbing up and down all night.

The Vacuum Shoe

I think I’ll stick with lower tech gadgets for now.  The best thing I saw come out of the show is the Shoe that Vacuums.  Yes!  You can buy a pair of shoes that will pick up dust and crumbs as you stroll along your carpeting.  Now that is innovation!

 

HAVE YOURSELF A FIZZY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Music, in all of its forms, always seems to evoke memories of times past.  That is never more true than at Christmas when emotions run a bit higher and hearing a carol on the radio can make even the most hard-hearted a bit sentimental.  I have been listening to the “Holly” station on my satellite radio and find myself drawn back to some wonderful Christmas memories.  Here are just a few – and to make sure you read until the end – I am also including Pop’s Christmas Ice Cream Fizz recipe.

“Silver bells, Silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city.”

The City of Paris tree

The City of Paris tree

“Silver Bells” was our mother’s favorite Christmas song.  I remember back in the 1950’s we had a record player that was roughly the size of a modern day refrigerator.  I thought it was a miracle of engineering that we could stack records on top of each other and they would drop in succession.  At Christmastime our mother couldn’t get enough of “Silver Bells” so each time it concluded she rushed to the record player to keep the next record from dropping so she could hear it again.  The song was our anthem; every year during the Christmas season we got dressed up, including gloves and hat, to make the 22 mile trip into San Francisco.  We had three destinations:  the Christmas tree in the City of Paris rotunda, the windows at Gump’s, and getting a sundae at Blum’s on Union Square.  Only Gump’s has managed to survive.  Blum’s closed in the 70’s and Neiman Marcus is now in the City of Paris building.  The magic of the City of Paris Christmas tree was not only its 40 foot size, but the decorations – tricycles, dolls, trains and all manner of toys, bright lights, glass bulbs and a huge star on top.  Each year it was a bit different and each year I stared at it in wide-eyed wonderment.  When Neiman Marcus bought the store they tried to carry on the tradition but judging by this year’s effort – a metal, blue spiral cone hung upside down – they have done an abysmal job of it.  Where is the magic in that?  Makes me glad I grew up when I did.

 

“Silent Night, Holy Night”

Our grandmother was in her 50’s when our grandfather died in 1948.  She never re-married.  She referred to him constantly and loved to keep his memory alive through stories.  She had a full life but was always a little sad around the holidays when she missed him most of all.  His favorite Christmas carol was “Silent Night”.   When all of our relatives would come on Christmas morning our mom would always have Christmas albums playing (by now we had graduated to a “console”).  The problem was that “Silent Night” would bring our grandmother to tears.  Unfortunately, of the approximately 87 Christmas albums our mother had, “Silent Night” seemingly appeared on all of them.  So my job was to remember the various “cuts” on the albums where “Silent Night” was placed and then race to the console to skip over the track before grandma dissolved into tears.  I can’t hear that song today without thinking about her and about the countless times I practically tripped over the Christmas tree lurching for the record player.

Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow…”

A jolly man indeed!

A jolly man indeed!

This will be the 15th Christmas without our dad.  I miss him just as much this year as I did that very first one.  He was a happy, joyful guy, always kind and helpful to others.  He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.  All year long he embodied the Christmas spirit and when I was very young I thought he even looked like Santa,  with his twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and a stomach that shook like a bowl full of jelly.  He loved the holidays, welcoming friends and family alike into our home.  Our whole family misses his loving spirit but we also recognize we were very lucky to have him as long as we did and are grateful that he left us with so many cherished Christmas memories.

“…So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.”

One of Pop’s hallmarks was the Ice Cream fizz he served every Christmas morning.  Oh sure, most families had hot chocolate and cider while we were drinking gin.  But don’t judge – it has given a roseate hue to many a Christmas morning.  So this year we are once again sharing his recipe so that you and your family might also enjoy this wonderful tradition.

 

 

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes

Add 6 jiggers of gin

Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream

Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg.  Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.

Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!

Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg.  As we got older we would conspire with Pop and ditch the wine glass for  a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

 

We wish everyone a Happy Holiday season – we’ll be back in 2017!

 

THE CHRISTMAS CARD DILEMMA

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

christmas-cardI love everything about Christmas – the decorations, the tree, the festive spirit that seems to permeate the air.  Of course, all that egg nog and hot buttered rum helps.  The only Grinch to my Christmas spirit is the dreaded Christmas cards.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive them, I just hate sending them.  So while our house is now ready for Christmas (my husband has opined that it looks like an elf vomited in here), I have put off my decision on cards until this week – do I send some out or just forget the whole thing?  Christmas cards just seem so 80’s to me – the 1880’s, which is when Christmas cards became popular in America.  The sending of cards is reminiscent of a time before the internet, when you didn’t hear from people except for the annual Christmas card.  Social media and email have completely changed that; today I can tell you what my friend down in Texas had for breakfast because she posted it on Facebook.   I know of every birth, death, marriage, divorce and trip to the mall.  So I don’t really need to get a Christmas card or worse yet, a Christmas letter, to know what my friends have been up to.  I know what my friends are doing right down to their scrambled eggs.

My Christmas cards seems to fall into four major categories.  First are the corporate cards.  You know, the ones from the banker or  insurance agent.  The first card we received this year was from our attorney, which seems only fitting since we bared our souls to him a few months ago while drawing up new life and death documents.  I don’t know whether he’s sending genuine greetings or he’s just checking to see whether the card gets returned and he needs to start filing paperwork.  The second category are from distant friends – people that we don’t see all year long but somehow the need arises to wish each other the very best for the holiday season.  Mostly they are old neighbors or workmates I couldn’t pick out in a crowd.  Am I morally obligated to continue this exchange of well-wishes?  The third group are the true friends – some of whom we see or keep in touch with all year long.  Heck, some of us are golf partners or good friends with whom we socialize every week.  We will be wishing holiday greetings in person, some of them several times.  Do we really need to send cards too?

christmas-letter

The last category is the Christmas letter.  There are some that are really well done.  Some.  But most seem to have turned the Christmas tradition of wishing others a happy season to one giant “let’s talk about me” exercise. Generally, people just don’t know where to stop.  Johnny got into Harvard?  Great.  Snookie was elected president of her third grade class?  Good for her!  But too often it goes into such minutia that it borders on the ridiculous.  My parents used to receive one that was so full of trivia and self-aggrandizement that our mom used to wait until we were all gathered on Christmas Eve so that one of us kids (by this time adults and full of “cheer”) could read it in dramatic fashion, everyone breaking into gales of laughter.  Each year my husband and I receive one from one of his former co-workers that last year had me going from the start.  In addition to a litany of the various trips taken, there was a review of golf handicaps (they went down, of course), a tabulation of their granddaughter’s Girl Scout cookie sales and the net worth of the company that their son-in-law went to work for, along with its employee count and various office locations.  Seriously.  As they’re writing this tome do they really think anyone cares about the headcount in Poughkeepsie?

christmas-ornamentPerhaps the best take on Christmas cards was from a friend of our parents back in the 60’s.  They kept every card they received the previous year.  Then they re-addressed it to the sender inserting a note that read “We liked your Christmas card so much last year that we have decided to give you the pleasure of seeing it again this year.  So, we’re sending it back to you.”  Now that is clever.  And it beats using old cards to make ornaments.  As for all the Christmas letters?  They could be shredded into bird cage liner and the circle would be closed.

So, here I sit in mid-December still trying to weigh the pros and cons of sending cards.  Mailing cards has become exponentially easier with the advent of computer-generated mailing labels so I don’t have that arthritic wrist to provide an excuse anymore.  And since I do like to see photos of people’s kids, grandkids and dogs I feel like I need to somehow reciprocate.  After all, who am I to deny the world of one more cute picture of Dash the Wonder Dog at Christmas?

 

 

 

GROUCHO MARX MAY BE RIGHT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Thanksgiving

I’m betting they didn’t have Jell-o salad

Well, here we are, launched into the holiday season.  “Holiday season” being a euphemism for “gain five pounds”.  Like most people, I consumed more food than normal last week, further endangering my cholesterol numbers.   I dove into mashed potatoes, gravy, pies and whipped cream like I was going to “the chair”.   In my food stupor I also gave some thought to the original Thanksgiving – the one where people actually got along and shared stuff.  Can you imagine?  The Pilgrims have been on my mind lately because earlier this year I applied for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.  To say that the requirements for entry are stiff is an understatement.  These people take their mission seriously; one can imagine hunched-over researchers with green eyeshades taking delight in stamping “Reject!” on the hundreds of applications they receive.  Actually, there is ONE man who is the gatekeeper to the organization – it is he alone who makes the decision as to whether your documentation is up to snuff.

I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say this research is not for the faint of heart.  One must provide birth, marriage and death certificates for every person in the descendant line, including spouses who aren’t even a blood relation to the original Mayflower passenger.  I don’t know about you but I can’t even find my own marriage license.   I asked myself several times during the research and collection phase of this process why I was going through this effort.  I’m not sure I ever satisfied myself with a great answer except that I am a history buff.  I love not only the facts and figures but the people who lived before us and shaped our world.  No detail is too small.  I am the type of person who goes through the National Gallery, looking at the portraits wondering what the subject had for breakfast that morning.  In the case of the Mayflower passengers I have also been looking for any hints of DNA that might have trickled down to our generation and I have been pleasantly surprised to find some similarities.

The very serious William Brewster

The very serious William Brewster

John Alden, for example, was our forefather and was a “cooper” – or barrel maker – in England before setting sail.  I immediately saw a connection; our brother Jack works for Fess Parker Winery and has great knowledge about barrel-making, not to mention his excellent ability to consume their contents.  We are also related to the Elder William Brewster, the religious leader of the Plymouth Colony.  No relatives I know of inherited his pious devotion, but prior to becoming an elder he worked as a postmaster and an English teacher.  Brother Bob also worked for the post office during college and then taught high school English upon graduation.  Finally, Priscilla Mullins (who later married Alden), was the spinner and weaver for the colony.  And anyone who has seen my vast collection of yarn or knows me as president of the local knitting guild would see an immediate link.  So who knows?  Maybe there are some genetic traits that filter down.  So far I haven’t found any horse thieves  but we are descended from several rabble rousers and a heretic burned at the Salem witch trials.  Anyone who knows my brothers or me would testify that that apple didn’t fall too far from that tree either.

It’s also been interesting to see which famous people are related to Mayflower passengers and, by extension, us.  John Adams, Dan Quayle and Marilyn Monroe are also related to John Alden.  I’m not sure about John or Dan, but I know I’m related to Marilyn because, as my brother can confirm, every year on his birthday I do my best Marilyn Monroe to Jack Kennedy version of the “Happy Birthday” song.  William Brewster’s descendants include Bing Crosby, Cokie Roberts and Julia Child.  I’m questioning my relation to Julia – I think the gene pool mutated somewhere between her and me.  But I can carry a tune and I love history so I figure two out of three isn’t bad.

mayflower-descendants

As I say, it’s a long and laborious process.  I submitted my application on June 1 and I have yet to hear the status of it.  I’m hoping that I catch the man who is the arbiter of all things Mayflower in a good mood the day he reviews it.  Otherwise I may have to adopt Grocho Marx’s philosophy – “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member”.

 

DASH, THE CANINE BOB HOPE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

dash-croppedWell…it’s been quite a week.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to discuss something – anything – other than the election.  Luckily, there are two events that have my attention – Veteran’s Day and Dash the Wonder Dog’s fourth birthday.  On the surface there wouldn’t seem to be any connection between those two events but this week I discovered that my beloved pet is the Bob Hope of dogs, ready to entertain the troops at a moment’s notice.  As you may recall, Dash began his working life last spring when he got a job at a local care center.  Each week he trots into the facility like he owns the joint and cuddles up with the residents.  He shamelessly begs for treats, which many of them readily provide.  He is especially fond of people who have poor hand-eye coordination because the floor around their bed or wheelchair is a veritable treasure trove of crumbs and shattered crackers.  Fortunately for Dash, such people are in plentiful supply, plus they have the added attraction of fawning over him as he roots around for their droppings.

pets-on-wheels

This week Dash was lucky enough to call on several men who were celebrating Veteran’s Day.  Most of them are former dog owners so they especially appreciate being able to pet and hold Dash.  I have observed that most of the veterans’ walls are adorned with photos of themselves in uniform, American flags, and commemorative awards and medals.  This week the center gave them special recognition at a Veteran’s Day celebration, replete with music from the ’40’s and a special memento plaque.  One of my favorite veterans is a 97-year-old man whose mental acuity puts me to shame.  The first time we visited I remarked on a photo of him in a WWII fighter plane.  “Oh yes”, he said, “I was 19 years old when I enlisted.  It was a good time to be 19 because I was too young to have the good sense to be scared“.  That said, he wheeled around and pulled a sheet of paper out of his drawer.  On it was a typed list of the FIFTY missions that he flew in Europe.  That is an extraordinary number of missions – the maximum allowed by the Air Force at the time.  He is still quite proud of his accomplishment, as well he should be.  Last week I noticed that he had the book “Killing the Rising Sun” on his bed.  There is a picture of General MacArthur on the cover so I mentioned to him that my husband and his family were rescued from a Japanese internment camp by Mac Arthur.  “Humph,” he said, “I think there’s only one word for MacArthur – pompous!”.  As I said, he’s as sharp as a tack.   We discovered last summer that this wonderful man and I share a birthday.  I can only hope that portends I will be as engaged and dynamic as he is at 97.

wwii-womenAlso residing in the care center is a retired four-star general and a man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  I love talking with these men, not only because they love being entertained by Dash, but because I have such unbridled admiration for their service and frankly, the dedication of their entire generation.  I read just enough sociology books to be boring at parties, and one recent phenomenon that worries me is the rise of the “cupcake” or “snowflake” generation – young people who are easily offended, shrink away from any opinion that differs from their own, and seek the constant reassurance of hearing “good job”.   I think about the “Greatest Generation” by comparison, whose work ethic and approach to life was forged by the Great Depression and World War II.  Most, like my own parents, didn’t have the money for college.  Their families “made do” during the Depression and when war broke out they volunteered and did whatever they could to contribute to the war effort.  That generation knew a lot of sacrifice and hard work.  They didn’t expect anything to be handed to them and learned how to face adversity with renewed resolve.  The World War II vets are dying at a rate of 1100 a day, and it is estimated that by the end of the decade almost all of them will all be gone.  We will be the worse for it.  So it was a privilege this week to wish the men in the care center a happy Veteran’s Day – we need to cherish them while we still have them.

As for Dash – we will celebrate his special day on Wednesday with treats and – if my husband isn’t looking – a cute little birthday hat.  I can’t believe how quickly the past four years have passed.  Our lives are forever changed by having this sweet and loving dog in our lives.  He makes us smile every day and his kisses, which he so lavishly dispenses, act as a salve to mend any cracks  in our hearts.  I have to say he really is a wonder dog.  Last week a nurse at the care center asked us to visit a new patient in the memory unit.  Dash crawled up on her bed and she stroked and cooed for five minutes.  When we left the nurse said it was the first time in three days that the woman had smiled.  In short, he makes everything – and everyone – better.  Maybe I should send him to Washington.

TRUMPKINS AND OTHER HALLOWEEN HISTORY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

gotAs if we don’t have enough to worry about right now, I’ve discovered whole websites devoted to “Trumpkins” – pumpkins carved out to look like Trump.  There are also some of Hillary called “Clinkins” but that doesn’t seem to have the same ring.  Frankly, I don’t really know how this whole pumpkin-carving thing started, or even that much about Halloween.  My knowledge on the subject is limited to costumes and Snickers bars.  Lots of Snickers bars.  I’ve been giving Halloween some thought this year because I’ve seen more advertisements for adult costumes and celebrations than ever before.  My assumption was that millennials have popularized the holiday by coming out of their parents’ basements to party with others of their generation.  That young adults have discarded their pajama bottoms in favor of dressing up as Steve Jobs or a Game of Thrones character, and in the process, have stolen Halloween from the kids.  As usual, my assumptions were all wrong.  So I quit looking at all of the Trumpkins on the internet and did a little research.  Turns out that Halloween started as an adult celebration and was then highjacked by kids.  Specifically, the Baby Boomers.  Yes, yet another thing we can chalk up to our overwhelming numbers and our parents desire to make us happy.  But let me start at the beginning.

 

samain

Halloween is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration that took place on November 1, which was the Celtic new year.  People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.   And, knowing my Celtic ancestors, I’m guessing that quite a few of the celebrants were lit too.  By 43 A. D. the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory and thus brought their own religious and cultural celebrations to the region, which resulted in a whole lot of observances – Feast Days, All Martyrs Days, All Saint’s Days, Days to Honor the Dead.  You get the idea.  In the eighth century Pope Gregory III, no doubt exhausted from having to oversee so many observances, consolidated the traditional Celtic and Roman holidays to one single day – November 1, known as All Saints Day.  Pope Gregory III knew how to cut through bureaucracy – we could use him around today. In any event, the night before became All Hallows Eve, eventually shortened to Halloween.

Fast forward a few hundred years when Halloween came to America.  It was not a holiday celebrated by the stuffy, dour  New England Protestants (again, our ancestors so I can say that) but caught on with newer immigrants to the southern colonies.  The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds.  Sounds like they really knew how to par-tay.  In the second half of the 19th century, with the huge influx of immigrants from Ireland, Halloween was introduced to virtually every region of the U.S.  Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.  And thus the tradition continued as a community celebration, primarily for adults, until the latter part of the twentieth century.  In the 1950’s, with so many adorable children bursting on the scene, Halloween was given over to children, with the focus on children’s events at school and calculated forays into neighborhoods where they gave out good (e.g. chocolate) vs. bad (suckers) candy.

pumpkin-dogSo, why are we seeing such an uptick in adult Halloween celebrations?  There are lots of theories and not a lot of definitive answers.  I think it’s mostly because people like to have fun and dressing up on Halloween and partying with friends is a good way to forget that your boss is a jerk and your mother-in-law is coming for Thanksgiving.  Whatever the reason, according to Forbes, Americans now spend $7 BILLION on decorations, costumes, cards, candy and pets.  Yes, pets.  We spend $1.22B on adult costumes, $1.04B on children’s costumes, and more than $370M on doodads for our dogs and cats.  I found that hard to believe but then a quick Google search convinced me that this pet-dressing phenomenon is quite real.  While many of the pictures made me smile (there are definitely pet owners who are spending too much time on Pinterest) I noticed that none of the pets looked too happy garbed up as a fairy princess or bumble bee.  Offhand I’d say that we’d be much better off donating that $370M to animal shelters.  But then again sometimes I’m just a buzzkill.

 

Speaking of which, my brother found an interesting article about the sale of Presidential candidate costumes in an election year.  Turns out that dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidential run, the candidate’s whose Halloween mask sells the most is far more likely to win the election.  This year,  the Trump mask is outselling the Clinton mask by 7%.  I’m not sure that’s really indicative of this year’s election.  I suspect the sales numbers reflect the fact that it’s just more fun to wear a clump of orange hair than a boxy pantsuit.

 

clinton-pumpkin trumpkin

THE PIMPING OF PINK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

pink-ribbonsSo…it’s October.  The month of pumpkins, Halloween and the ever-present pink ribbon.  Yes, in case you’ve been in a cave the past few weeks, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.  It’s hard not to be aware since the pink ribbon is plastered on everything from lipstick to toilet paper.  I can’t check out at the grocery store or purchase something online without being asked to donate to a breast cancer charity.   I want to say at the outset that I am very much in support of breast cancer education and research.  After all, one of my oldest and best friends has survived a particularly hellish form of the disease thanks to great doctors and innovations in drug therapy.  And maybe that’s at the root of my problem with the “awareness” movement.  Breast cancer now has a high survivability rate, even for cases that were once thought to be a death sentence.  The American Cancer Society now estimates that the five-year survival rate for most breast cancer stages is close to 100%.  That is tremendous progress and can certainly be attributed in part to the pink ribbon campaign of the past 25 years.   But in my opinion, the pink ribbon has been pimped out.

 

pink-ribbon-wine-glass

First of all, pink ribbons on products signifies marketing at its best – or worst – luring customers into thinking that the company is donating proceeds to breast cancer research.  In fact, according to the Breast Cancer Awareness organization and a report by the Huffington Post, some major products with pink ribbons on the packaging are there for marketing purposes only. In other words, they put the pink ribbon on their product to get the consumer to assume that some portion of the purchase goes toward breast cancer research.  In reality it’s just there for marketing purposes.  No additional funds go anywhere except the pocket of the corporation.  In doing some research for this piece I was taken aback by some of the major product manufacturers that do this – everything from shoes to food.  The height of irony to me is the sale of wine and liquor glasses with the pink ribbon when, in fact, alcohol consumption can contribute to getting breast cancer in the first place.  Pink ribbon product placement where there is no actual financial contribution to the cause is not illegal as there is no trademark on the pink ribbon.  Which means it can be used, and abused, at will.    Certainly there are many companies that do donate their proceeds to breast cancer charities but my caution is that you research the donation details before you plunk down your hard-earned cash.

 

nflThe other major irony that occurs this month is the NFL’s insistence on showing their “awareness” by players wearing pink shoes, wrist bands, socks and…wait for it…pink ribbons on their helmets.  Hmmmmm….if I recall, October is also Domestic Violence awareness month.  Seems to me that if the NFL wanted to do something favorable towards women this month they might have the players sport the purple Domestic Violence ribbons.  Josh Brown has been the latest player to be charged with abuse but, regretfully, he is far from alone.  Benjamin Morris of the FiveThirtyEight organization crunched federal data to measure the league’s domestic violence arrest rate against the general population of American men ages 25 to 29. He found that domestic violence accounted for a whopping 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among the football players, compared to 21 percent among non-football players.  Moreover, relative to the income level (top 1 percent) and poverty rate (0 percent) of NFL players, the domestic violence arrest rate is downright extraordinary.  Roger Goodell’s commission, put together in 2014 after the Ray Rice incident, seems to have had little influence thus far – 2015 saw almost a doubling of the domestic violence arrests among NFL players.  And if you think it’s because it’s being reported more, you need to read this Washington Post article from last week that describes the NFL’s “hush hush” policy regarding the abuse of women: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/10/17/for-battered-nfl-wives-a-message-from-the-cops-and-the-league-keep-quiet/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.5538aa51ef46.

But the greatest driver of my dislike of the pink ribbon is because it takes the air out of the room for other causes.  After all, breast cancer is NOT the leading cause of death among women – that distinction goes to heart disease.  There is minimal red ribbon activity in February but then it seems to fade into obscurity.  Where is the awareness for lung and colorectal cancers, which both kill more women than breast cancer?  And my personal complaint is the lack of funding for melanoma research.  Five years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma.  In my initial panic I searched the internet for local support and education.  Surely a sunny state like Arizona with a high UV index should be replete with resources.  Nope.  Not a support group in sight.  Not even a lousy walk.  Five years later, I’m doing fine – I just look like a beekeeper every time I’m out in the sun.  But a friend died of melanoma last year and another is fighting it.  So I really hate “pink ribbon” month when I know so many more causes could use the research money.   If nothing else the Melanoma Foundation needs the breast cancer marketing people – their ribbon color is black.

ELECTION AVOIDANCE BEHAVIOR

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

giant-meteorAs my brother so accurately rhymed last week, we are in a whole lotta trouble.  And I’ve had to write this blog before the Presidential debate on Sunday night.  God only knows what fresh hell that will bring.  I’m not sure I can take any more “news”.  Admittedly I watch too many of the cable shows, switching from one to the other in hopes that I will gain some perspective.  But all I’ve gotten in return is carpel tunnel syndrome in my valiant, but fruitless, effort to find sanity.  Over the weekend I decided I’d had enough and swore off following the election.  The conundrum was, how do I find ways to occupy my time over the next four weeks?   I think I’ve stumbled on some solutions and since we here at “A Bird’s Eye View” always aim to be of public service, today I’m going to share my election avoidance strategies.  So, in no particular order, here they are:

Sports – I’ve always liked watching sports and rooting for my favorite athletes and home teams.  This year I’ve especially appreciated the fact that within a few hours you know who the winner is  and there’s no campaigning unless you count Colin Kaepernick.  Which I don’t.  Plus, let’s face it, it’s a great excuse to eat Doritos and guacamole.  Luckily, we are in the sweet spot of the year for sports.  A quick perusal of the TV listings this week offered a cornucopia of athletic events on TV – pro football, college football, hockey, golf, college volleyball, English “football”, pre-season basketball, the MLB playoffs, motorsports, soccer and tennis.  There is something for everyone on that list – assuming you are a sports fan.  If not, read on.

sock-drawer

Organize – There have been many books out in the past year or so touting the soothing benefits of organizing your life, your home and your mind.  Personally, I think it’s over-rated.  But I decided to organize my closet in an attempt to avoid the news (and Facebook – don’t even get me started on that.  Why do friends insist on re-posting political crap?  Like we care.  Or that it’s going to change our mind.  I’d rather see the ubiquitous pictures of dinner plates/expensive wine bottles/Aunt Gertrude’s 80th birthday cake.) It seems like socks are always in need of organizing.  I think elves mess up my sock drawer every summer.  I spent more time than I care to admit deciding whether to organize by color or length and whether to bundle or roll.  Finally I gave up and went back to my Doritos.  But again, it was a more soothing activity than listening to popularity numbers or, God forbid, “analysis” done by surrogates.

Food/Home – If indoor sports are more to your liking, turn on the Food Channel or HGTV.  It’s amazing how comforting it is to listen to someone stress over whether the sofa should be orange or blue compared to watching endless analysis of debate prep.  I get so invested in “Househunters” that I end up shouting at the prospective buyers.  Why can’t they see that the three flights of stairs in Home #2 is going to be a pain in the butt when they’re lugging groceries?  It’s almost as good as watching sports.  The Food Channel also offers endless entertainment but is decidedly more fattening.  I’m not a great cook but I get so inspired when watching the Barefoot Contessa that I think I can actually turn out a successful meal.  Many failed attempts have been dumped in the garbage but that’s still better than looking at poll numbers.

kids-helpingFind the Good News – Yes, this IS possible.   While the media focuses on the negative, there are plenty of good things going on out there too.  They’re just not as sensational so it’s harder to find them.  One place I discovered dedicated solely to good news is http://abcnews.go.com/us/good_news.  It’s full of stories about people doing all sorts of wonderful things to make our world a better place – helping the homeless, mentoring disadvantaged youth, rescuing animals or simply performing random acts of kindness.  Reading the stories reminded me that we are not the politicians.  Or, more accurately, they are not us.  Especially in an election year the politicians try to put a wedge between us, but I think we all know that most people, regardless of political affiliation, are genuinely good, with honest intentions and a helping hand for someone in need.  That’s who we are – our similarities far outweigh our differences.

So far those are the activities I’ve come up with to divert myself from the news.  If you have developed other coping mechanisms please share.  After all, there is only so much I can do with my sock drawer in the next four weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

PEACE IN THE MOUTAINS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

image

Turning leaves in Sun Valley

Fall is my favorite season.  After all, it’s the time of year when you can get a Pumpkin Spiced Latte at Starbucks and Costco offers their manhole-sized pumpkin pies.  This year Dairy Queen in entering the fray by offering a dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream, bits of pumpkin pie, topped with nutmeg and whipped cream.  No wonder I gain weight every October.  I come by my love of fall naturally – 20 years ago I had my colors analyzed and it was determined I’m a “Autumn”, meaning I look best in the colors found this season.  But mostly I love this time of year because this is when we make our annual trek up to Sun Valley, Idaho where the air is fresh and the leaves are turning.  And, not by coincidence, the kids are back in school so it is also quiet.

 

Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake

There is something very peaceful about being in the mountains.  I’ve read some recent articles about how people who reside in the mountains live longer.  The research indicates that it’s because of cleaner air, more outdoor activity, and increased aerobic function due to the altitude.  I don’t know about all that – I suppose if the researchers say it then it must be true.  But this week as we drove up to Redfish Lake, near Stanley, Idaho, I thought back to a study that I read years ago.  I have searched the internet to find it again but it’s probably too old even for Google’s capabilities.  The essence of the thesis was this: people who reside in the mountains live longer because they see themselves in perspective.  It went on to theorize that it is hard to take our human problems and even our very existence too seriously when staring at the magnificence of high-peaked mountains.  In other words, when we view ourselves in relation to nature we gain a greater realization that we are only a small cog in a much larger scheme.

Snow in September

Snow in September

That feeling has certainly been forefront in our trip this year.  We have marveled at the vibrant colors of leaves turning and the first dusting of snow on top of Mount Baldy.  When we are outdoors experiencing this magical place, it seems as if all is right with the world.  When we drove home from Redfish Lake the other day, with no satellite radio and no cell service, we had only the glorious scenery, the Salmon River and some antelope to occupy our thoughts.  We were both filled with an overwhelming feeling of peace.  But then, as we returned to “civilization” reality crashed down on us.  A basket full of deplorable candidates for President, racial strife across the country and more terrorist attacks.  I certainly don’t have the first clue as to what the cure is for our collective problems.  All I do know is that  John Denver had it right when he wrote the following lyrics:

“Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake”

We’ll be leaving Sun Valley this week and I will miss this beautiful place more than ever.  Am I escaping reality here?  Probably.  I am just sorry that the whole world cannot feel the peacefulness of the mountains.  God knows we need it.

SMALL MOMENTS – A 9/11 TRIBUTE (2016)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I am posting the memorial I wrote on the 10 year anniversary with updates on a surreal encounter and a promise kept.

melissa harrington hughesHer message was my wake-up call.  She inspired me and changed my life forever. Yet I never met her.

Melissa Harrington Hughes died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She didn’t work there; she was on a business trip for her San Francisco-based technology firm. She was an extremely accomplished 31-year-old, who had traveled the world and had been married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes, for the past year.

On that fateful morning she was attending a meeting on the 101st floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck just 6 floors below her.  Many people remember her for the harrowing voicemail that she left Sean minutes after the building was struck.   In that voicemail she said, “Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I am stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit or a bomb went off – we don’t know, but there’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know I love you always.”

The first time I heard Melissa’s voicemail, Sean was speaking to Chris Jansing on MSNBC and played the recording on air.  Ms. Jansing completely broke down upon hearing it.  Clearly, Melissa’s final words resonated with a lot of people.  The internet site dedicated to Melissa filled with posts from people who were touched by her story.  I was among them. When the buildings collapsed I thought about all of the people that worked for my company in those towers.   Three of our employees died that day but Melissa was the one that stood out. Somehow, amongst the overwhelming tales of tragedy, her story elicited the strongest emotions from me.  But why?

I suppose that, in part, I could relate to her on some level.  I was also employed by a large Bay Area-based firm and had spent most of my adult life working in San Francisco.  At one point I made several business trips to NYC to meet with staff housed in the North tower at the World Trade Center.  I remember navigating the unusual elevator and escalator systems in that building as I rushed to early morning meetings, just as she must have done.  I was also struck by Melissa’s beautiful wedding picture taken up in Napa, California, close to where I grew up.  I knew that she had appreciated what a special part of the country that is. But it was more than the similar business trips and her picture that stayed with me; it was her voicemail to Sean that was seared into my brain.

MHH North Tower (Medium)

In her voice I could sense so many of her emotions: fear, panic, bewilderment.  But mostly, in her final minutes on earth, she wanted Sean to know that she loved him.  I thought about her, and all of the people that died that day, who went off to work as they normally did.  Kissing a spouse or child good-bye, grabbing a cup of coffee, making plans for the weekend ahead.  And none of them came home.  Plans and hopes and dreams were gone in an instant.  Sean Hughes said that he and Melissa were excited about their future and talked about all the things that newlyweds do: moving to a new home, getting a dog, having children.

Her final words to Sean started me thinking about my own life.  My husband had taken early retirement in 1996.  He wanted to travel, spend time with our new grandson, and enjoy time with friends.  I had wanted to continue working.  But I kept thinking about Melissa’s message.  What if that had been me?  Is that how I would want my life to end, without ever having enjoyed what my husband and I had worked so hard to build?

The weeks following September 11 were frightening and incredibly busy for me.  My division of the company had locations throughout the United States and for weeks after the twin towers fell we received bomb threats in our major office buildings. Of course, all of them were false but that didn’t lessen the hysteria of my employees who were in those buildings.  I understood – my office was on the top floor of our Los Angeles headquarters and I jumped every time I  heard a plane or helicopter go by.  After a month or so, I began to hope that the turmoil would pass and that my life would get back to “normal”.   But then I thought about Melissa.  Life doesn’t get scripted.  I knew that the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack might be low, but there were no guarantees that I could escape a car accident or a terminal illness.

So the first week of November, after the initial frenzy had died down, I told my boss that I wanted to resign.  We negotiated that I would stay until March 1, which I did.  I have never regretted that decision and would not trade all of the memories and experiences I’ve had since then for any amount of compensation I gave up.

The author Judith Viorst once wrote that it is the small moments in life that make it rich.   Melissa made me realize that I needed to grab the small moments while I could; that sitting with my husband every morning, sipping coffee and watching the news, is a gift not to be squandered or go unappreciated.

So to Melissa Harrington Hughes: thank you.  Someday I hope to get back to the new September 11 Memorial where I will touch the steel engraving of your name.  And in the hollows of those letters, we will finally be connected.

2016 Update:  This past March I went to New York with my niece and her two daughters.  Visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was one of our highlights (I wrote about it in The Museum of Sadness and Strength post).  I read that buying tickets in advance was key so on February 24 I went on to their website to order ours.  On that same day I received an email that someone had commented on my original post about Melissa.  I thought that was a coincidence – that maybe something that I had typed in the computer had caused an old comment to be recirculated.  But it wasn’t an old comment  – it was this:  “I came across your blog after my son and I just prepared an required oral presentation for his English class about a life event of mine that had great impact. I think of Melissa almost every day –  I was her best friend since childhood.  She was a shining light and people were drawn to her. I miss her and the memories are still clear with detail. Thank you for seeing how her passion, love for life, and love for her husband and family was that shining light, even if it was her last words. She called her Dad and Mom and Sean from that burning building because she loved them deeply. She is well remembered and will never be forgotten.”  I still get chills when I read this note and think about the timing of it.  There are no coincidences in life, of that I am sure.

2016-03-30 12.06.05 (Small)On March 30 I was finally able to fulfill the promise to myself that I would visit Melissa’s engraving at the Memorial.  Her name is carved into Panel N-22 on the large reflecting pool that stands in the footprint of the former North Tower.  I put my hand on her name and thanked her once again for all that she has meant in my life.  May she rest in peace.