How Long Can We Do This?

by Bob Sparrow

masthead_4_copy.png   While Suzanne was enjoying the cooler environs of Nipomo and I was trying to sneak into Russia, this past August marked a small blog milestone – our 4-year anniversary. Those of you who have been with us for the entire ride may remember that our blog started in August 2011 – we certainly don’t remember back that far! Initially it was a way to use social media to drive visitors to our ill-fated tribute poem writing business, Red Posey. The blog was then entitled Morning News in Verse and we would follow a USA Today newspaper format by writing four rhyming stanzas about topical news – one stanza each about Headlines, Business, Sports and Entertainment. Suzanne and I would alternate publishing a poem EVERYDAY!   That everyday thing lasted for about two months, when we realized that it was occupying way too much of our life – like all of it; so we cut back to twice a week. Every once in a while we would deviate from the poetic format, as deviates are wont to do, and write prose about various subjects. An example of this occurred in September of 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when Suzanne wrote a moving piece entitled, Small Moments – A 9/11 Tribute, World Trade Center 9/11/01which received a large number of hits and many great comments – it is still to this day, probably the most visited blog in our archives. We eventually noticed that our number of blog hits and comments would increase when we scrapped the iambic pentameter and just wrote prose, not like pros, but prose nonetheless. While we immediately noticed the increase in interest when we scraped the poetry format, it took us until March of the next year to officially change our content and format to what it is currently. And since we weren’t rhyming any more we changed our name – not to Morning News Without Verse, but to ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’, a name borrowed from a newspaper column our mother wrote for the Novato Advance back when our dad was owner, editor and publisher of that paper in the 1940 and 50s.

We continued to post a blog twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, until July 2012. Then, either sensing that we were running out of ideas or audience, or both, we switched to our current schedule of every Monday morning. Whether the deadline was everyday, twice a week or once a week, I am happy to report that we have not missed a scheduled posting since starting this back in August 2011; I guess that’s due in part to our father’s newspaper blood coursing through our veins, where missing a deadline just isn’t an option.

Novato Advance

Dad & Mom in front of the Novato Advance

Over these past four years we have published over 300 blogs, which have generated over 25,000 ‘views’ and nearly 1,000 comments (A special thank you to those who comment and let us know that our words don’t just fly off into cyber space). Our biggest day came last December when 388 people clicked on Suzanne’s ‘A TRIBUTE TO MY FIRST BEST FRIEND’ about her friend Leslie Sherman.  And if you Google ‘From a Bird’s Eye View blog’, you will find about 530 results over 12 pages – we are fortunate enough to be found . . . on the first page!!!

I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of remarkable places and meet a number of interesting people; and I am thankful for staying awake in English class long enough to understand how to put a sentence together without dangling a modifier . . . most of the time. But the best part of all this is working with my sister, Suzanne. While our styles are a bit different, we enjoy reading and editing each other’s posts prior to publishing (OK, she edits mine a whole lot more than I edit hers!), discussing subject matter, travel schedules and just plain catching up with each other on a much more regular basis than before we started writing together.

So as we try to avoid breaking our arms from patting ourselves on the back, we’d mostly like to thank you loyal ‘bird watchers’ for tuning in. As you know, we have written about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime (mostly me the ridiculous and Suzanne the sublime), so thank you for tolerating the expression of our thoughts, opinions and experiences.

How long can we do this? As long as you keep reading, we’ll keep writing.

Suz-Bob

Thank you!!

 

DEDUCING DEDUCTIONS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The dreaded 1040

The dreaded 1040

Well, it’s that time of year again where I get out my green eyeshades and sharpen my pencil in order to calculate our taxes.  I’m actually one of the few people I know who like to prepare taxes – it’s the paying of them I’m not so crazy about.  A few years ago a friend told me about a head-to-head competition he ran between his CPA and TurboTax.  Turns out that TurboTax actually found more deductions.  That was enough for a geek like me; I began using it the following year.  It’s very simple – I input our income, figure out some of the major deduction categories, insert them when prompted and they magically calculate what we owe.  Unfortunately this year, it was a LOT more fun inserting the numbers than it was to read what we owed.  Yikes!  We’re not personally trying to settle the national debt, although the wizards at the IRS and TurboTax evidently think we are.  So there was only one solution – find more deductions.

Dash, the Dependent

Dash, the Dependent

I began by reviewing our charitable contributions.  I thought about all the times I carelessly tossed spare change into whatever charity container sits at the checkout counter at the grocery store.  Certainly I must have thrown at least $1000 in there over the course of a year  Or maybe not.  I perused the list of clothing that we give to the local animal shelter thrift store.  If I actually added in my time to the hand-knit sweaters I donated I’m sure the value of them would skyrocket.  Of course, I’m not sure that the IRS values my time in quite the same way I do.  On closer review of our annual expenses, it became apparent that we spend an awful lot of money on Dash, The Wonder Dog.  So I began to look more closely at the questions that TurboTax was asking me. “Do you have children or other people  you financially support?”  Well, Dash may not technically qualify as people, per se, but those of you who own a pet will certainly testify (perhaps at my IRS hearing) that our pets are just like people.  Better, in some cases.  “Do you pay child or dependent care?”  Dash cannot be left alone for hours on end, which leaves us no choice but to take him to the dog sitter.  And although he may not be a child, there is no question but that he is very dependent on us. “Do you have any higher education costs?”  YES!  Last year we paid to have Dash go through the Canine Good Citizen program which cost us a pretty penny, I assure you.  And I’m willing to bet that he got more out of that than those kids who are drinking their way through Chico State.

A Dog with a JOB

A Dog with a JOB

Finally I decided that I should consult the IRS guidelines on the issue.  Turns out, that in some cases you CAN deduct expenses for your dog.  First, if you’re blind or otherwise handicapped, you can deduct all of the costs associated with a service dog.  There is a lot of paperwork involved to certify that the dog is actually medically necessary.  The IRS does not take the same slap-dash attitude toward this as the airlines, who seem pretty gullible by comparison with all the passengers claiming their dog is necessary for “emotional support” when all they’re really trying to do is avoid the $75 pet fee. Going blind so that I can claim Dash as a service dog seemed like it was taking things a bit too far.  I moved on.  The other way you can deduct your dog is if he has a jobAha!  I can definitely make a case that Dash has a job – he keeps quite busy every day following me around scooping up any food I happen to drop.  But of course it’s always the fine print that gets you and as I read further, apparently the dog actually has to have regular work hours at a place of business.  Like those snarling dogs at the local lumber yard.  And a sign must be posted “Beware – Guard Dog on Duty”.  Hmmmmm, we are so far from that.  We have a front door mat that says “Beware – Our Dog Can’t Hold Its Licker”.

Finally, I gave up on the “Dash deduction” and resigned myself to paying the taxes owed.  Our dad used to say that he never minded paying taxes because it was a privilege to live in this country.  I admire his spirit but I’m not sure if he were alive today he would say the same thing, given budget excesses for $100,000 hammers and million dollar boondoggles by – of all people – IRS employees.  I’m going to send a suggestion in with my tax forms stating how I’d like my tax payment to be appropriated.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

IN THE STATE OF “POMA”

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Poma remnants

The Poma remnants

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Which means that I’m spending today cleaning out the refrigerator and wondering why I bought so much food.  There is something about Thanksgiving that must make my “starvation gene” kick in.  I buy groceries like we have had nothing to eat for months and end up with enough food to feed an army.  Unfortunately, with only six of us in the house, we end up being a very well-fed army.  Or, as our daughter said this weekend, we are in a “poma”.  That is a hybrid word she coined on Thanksgiving night as we sat watching football in a  stupor – a combination of pie and coma.  It aptly described our mental and physical states.  And that was before the 49ers played so badly that the owner apologized to the fans. Maybe the players were in a poma too.  But no matter how bad we felt, we were still better off than the people who ventured out to shop in the newly formed “Thanksgiving Day Sales”.  I want to go on record that I am totally against the stores opening on Thanksgiving Day.  Can’t we still have a holiday that celebrates food, family and football without Target and Walmart getting involved?  The stores all claimed that the early opening times would avoid some of the mayhem from past Black Friday sales when so much pushing and shoving took place.   Hmmmmm…let’s just re-cap how that little experiment worked.  For your reading pleasure, here are some of the highlights from the “new” Black Thursday:

 

  • In Romeoville, Illinois a policeman was dragged from his car in the parking lot at Kohl’s by a shoplifter he was trying to apprehend,

    At least there are no knives in sight

    At least there are no knives in sight

  • In Las Vegas, a man was shot in a Target parking lot when two men accosted him and tried to steal the HDTV he had just purchased,
  • In Virginia a man was stabbed in the knee with a knife after two men got into an altercation over a parking spot,
  • In Carlsbad, California a man was stabbed in the stomach at the entrance to a mall, ostensibly jockeying for position to be the first to get his hands on a brand new TV.
  • At a Houston Walmart people were trampled and fights broke out when shoppers laid down on Samsung TV boxes to “reserve” them.  (I actually had to laugh thinking about the genesis of that shopping strategy:  “Okay, I’ll go get the Game Boy and Barbie Doll, you go heave your body over the Samsung box until I come around to pick you up.”)

The most telling of the “Black Friday” incidents occurred in Nanuet, New York, where two Costco employees began fighting in the men’s room before the store opened and one of them stabbed the other with a box cutter.  You can only imagine the conversation that preceded their tiff.  They were most likely fighting over which one of them had to go out and face all of the fruitcakes that were lined up at the store entrance, waiting to get their hands on a bargain-priced electric potato peeler or a jumbo container of gouda cheese.

Clearly, the goal of the new opening hours on Thursday did nothing to stem the violence – or stupidity – of the shopping public.   But I suspect that the big stores will open again on Thanksgiving next year because I just read that the extra hours translated to record profits for them.  It seems hard to believe that we might become nostalgic for the “good old days” when people were just pushing and shoving.

As for me, I’ll stick with Cyber Monday, where traditionally people shop from their employer’s computers so they can take advantage of the fast T-1 lines.  Not to mention the added benefit of looking like they’re working furiously on their computer when in reality they’re perusing the latest Best Buy ad.  Even though I am now retired, I still like looking at the deals available today.  And I have the extra added benefit of safety – I am fairly confident that neither my husband or Dash the Wonder Dog will stab me while I’m shopping.

SCHOOL DAZE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Dash the Wonder Dog in a quieter moment

Dash the Wonder Dog in a quieter moment

Over the past three months we have been doing LOTS of homework around our house.  Studying, practicing, shouting. Lots of shouting.  Let’s just say the atmosphere has been a little tense.  As much as we rehearsed, success was infrequent and attention spans were non-existent.  But finally, last Saturday, our big day arrived – Dash the Wonder Dog was tested for his Canine Good Citizen designation.  I swear I haven’t been as nervous about a test since I took the SAT.  Actually, I wasn’t that nervous about the SAT since I had pulled an all-nighter the night before and could barely fill in the circles on the test paper (which probably goes a long way toward explaining why I didn’t get into a better college).  But this day was Dash’s big day and nervous energy prevailed. We made sure he had a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast.  “They” say it is the most important meal of the day and I wasn’t about to question whether that also pertains to our canine friends.  We made sure he had “done his business” beforehand as I was quite certain that pooping unexpectedly in public was not part of the test.  At the appointed hour, we walked into the classroom at Pet Smart where Dash immediately lost control and jumped up on the instructor.  It was going to be a long day.

The first part of the test was done in the classroom where the conditions were somewhat controllable.  Dash sensed my uncertainty and shot me a look conveying “Chill, Mom, I got this”. I wasn’t so sure. None of our practice sessions indicated anything close to success. But there was no delaying the test. The first few requirements were child’s play – “sit”, “down”, “stay”.  Basically the canine equivalent of kindergarten.  But then it got more serious – he had to sit and stay while I walked 15 feet away and then come to me on command. My palms were moist, my mouth was dry and Dash was distracted by a rather comely Poodle walking past the window. I took a deep breath and called him to me.  Just as Dash passed the mid-point the devious instructor placed an open bag of peanut butter treats between him and me.  Jeez – that’s like asking me to pass by a piece of Costco’s chocolate cake without at least sticking my finger in the frosting.  Luckily, as it turns out, Dash the Wonder Dog has a lot more self-discipline than I do.  He ran right over to me, hardly giving a faretheewell to the treats.  I’ve never been prouder in my life.  After two more “inside” tasks, we ventured out into the aisles of the Pet Smart store.  On a Saturday Adoption Day.  I’ve seen less chaos at an Under Six soccer game.

20140314-161319.jpg

His Senior Portrait

We began by testing whether Dash could pass another dog and owner as they walked by on our left side.  Fortunately, just as we were passing the other dog and his master, Dash became mesmerized by some goop of unknown origin on the right side of the floor.  I was momentarily concerned about the make-up of this “goop” since Dash was proceeding to ingest it, but decided to just “take the win” when the instructor said he had passed the test.  Apparently, he can wreak havoc as long as it isn’t toward the other dog or owner.  Good to know.  The next task was to walk 20 feet through a crowd in a “heel” position and then return to the starting point without breaking stride.  The instructor gathered five strangers to act as the crowd.  Frankly, I think some of them looked a little too strange.  I peered at them assiduously, certain that some of them were planted by the instructor with beef liver treats in their pockets.  But again – much to my amazement – Dash walked through the group as if he had better places to go and other people to see.  I was beginning to think someone had drugged him.  This was not the dog that I had been training at home.  Our last task entailed Dash going up to a stranger with me and sitting quietly while I conversed.  He behaved like a champ.  I think all the time I spend talking with my friends on the phone has provided him with a tin ear where I’m concerned.  I can almost see him thinking “blah, blah, blah – does she ever shut up?”  No matter…after ten tests were completed Dash had officially become a good citizen.  We all cheered, donned funny hats, and ate peanut butter treats.

20140314-161300.jpg

Dash doing what he does best.

But now here we are, back in the real world.  Every day I work with him a bit, trying to ensure that he doesn’t forget any of the valuable lessons he has learned.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure retention is his strong suit.  As soon as I take him outside and ask him to heel he assumes the attitude of a teenager and pulls me in the opposite direction.  I ask him to sit when we reach the corner and he is suddenly rendered deaf.  I am thinking that I would like to have him certified as a therapy dog since he is so gentle and loving by nature.  But at this point, I think his forte is the “sleep” command.  He has that down pat, especially when he’s on our bed.  Now all I need to do is find someone who needs a sleeping therapy dog.  Who snores.  Oh well, we’re proud of him anyway and the framed certificate looks great on the wall next to the college diplomas.

 

 

A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO MY BROTHER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Bob's 70th

Bob, his wife Linda,their son, daughters, their husbands and two VERY cute grandchildren

It is an unfortunate fact that oftentimes in life we don’t let people know how we feel about them until we’re delivering their eulogy.  We assume, we presume, we procrastinate.  And then we end up saying something to the effect of, “Gee, I never told him how I really feel about him.”

Fortunately this will not be the case for my brother Bob.  Our entire family gathered this past weekend to celebrate his 70th birthday and as all our family gatherings tend to be, it was filled with laughter, good story-telling (mostly true but not always), and some sentimental tears. One of Bob’s daughters arranged for 70 different people to write a tribute to him. As he reads them hopefully he will realize that from the time he was a small boy until today, he has been a much-admired person.  We should all be so lucky to have an experience such as this.  So with your indulgence, my blog today is an edited version of my tribute to Bob…a truly great brother.

 

Dear Bob,

I can’t believe you are 70 years old today!  Boy, you are OLD.  But, make no mistake, in very good shape.  For your age…and considering that your hips and knees are shot.  And we don’t even want to think about your liver.  But today we mark this important milestone and let you know how very special you are.  I’m sure you will get lots of notes and cards from family and friends to mark this significant birthday.  But only one person can tell you what a great big brother you have been – and that’s me.

Our relationship started out a bit rocky.  After all, I was the interloper who caused you, at age 7, to go from the baby of the family to the middle child.  So you did what all big brothers do with pesky younger sisters – you figured out ways to torment me.

As adults, however, we found a lot of common ground.   We both have a reverence for books and, of course, enjoy writing.  But first and foremost is our shared sense of humor.  We both think we’re pretty funny, which is good because sometimes other people don’t.  Pop was a big influence on us, of course, but you always added a wry spin to a story or took pleasure in the outrageous.  I still laugh when I think about the messages you used to leave at my office.  Like the one you left when I was well into middle age:  “Please tell Suz that her A.A. meeting tonight has been cancelled.”  I explained to my secretary, “That’s just my brother – he has a very funny sense of humor.”  I’m not sure she ever saw me in quite the same way again.

As I thought about my lifetime of memories with you, there are two stories from our childhood that kept coming back to me.  I think that’s because these two stories, of you as a boy, portend the wonderful man you would become.

1955

Jack, Suz and Bob …around 1955.

The first story is actually my first memory in life, in 1954 or 55.  The three of us were in the backseat of Dad’s station wagon, on our way to Playland at the Beach in San Francisco.  As Playland came into sight, you suddenly shot up out of your seat and shouted, “Look!  There it is!!  We’re here!”  I was so surprised by your sudden movement and unbridled enthusiasm that even today the memory of it is fresh.  Once there you soaked it all in – Laughing Sal, the Fun House, the carnival rides and the shooting galleries.  You even gave me one of your prizes.  On the way home you were completely satisfied – you had been someplace exciting and done something fun.  Today, you are still that boy, enthused about travel, excited to go someplace new, and still generous in spirit.

My second memory is of an event a few years later.  I had committed some infraction and was sent up to my room without dinner.  I was scared to be alone, but I trudged up the stairs and heaved myself onto my bed, sobbing.  A short while later you came to my room, carrying a bowl of soup.  I cried on your shoulder, scared to be alone while you were all downstairs eating.  Then you noticed that an ant had crawled onto my hand.  You watched as it crawled around my fingers and you assured me it would stay with me and be my friend.  But you were wrong.  My friend in the room that day was you.  All throughout your life you have been a good friend to many people, but no one has been more appreciative of your friendship than me.  Today, you continue to be thoughtful and caring, especially with children, whether it is through your work at Ronald McDonald House, your CASA companion, or your own grandchildren, Dylan and Emma.

2013

Jack, Suz and Bob – 2013 and we still love each other!

All of my life you have been a constant source of support, whether in times of joy or times of trouble, to offer perspective and humor, kindness and help.  We are all so lucky – we three – to have each other not only as siblings but as friends.  To want to spend time together and savor each moment.  And in part that is due to you, the middle child, the glue that keeps the three parts together.

As much as I love to write, I will never be able to find the words to adequately express how very much you mean to me.  Just know that I love you with all of my heart and that you have been a very positive influence in my life.  I am so very lucky to have you as a big brother.

Happy 70th Birthday, Bob!

 

 

THE GREATEST GENERATION DIET

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

So good it has its own Facebook page

So good it has its own Facebook page

The other day I was slumped over the kitchen counter, fork in hand, eating a Costco pumpkin pie straight out of the container.  It started innocently enough – I bought the pie on my weekly trip to Costco for purely scientific reasons.  Thanksgiving is at our house this year so I wanted to make sure that Costco’s pumpkin pie was up to snuff.  A pinch too much nutmeg or a surplus of cinnamon can throw off the whole dinner.  So really, it was in everyone’s best interest that I officially test it out.  Of course, I’ve been buying the pumpkin pie at Costco for about ten years and it has remained amazingly consistent.  But still…you never know when some genius is going to mess with the recipe.  Think “new coke”.

When I brought it home my husband’s eyes lit up – pumpkin pie is his favorite.  We each had a piece that day and again the following day.  Then the paragon of virtue that I’m married to says, “Well, I’ve had enough.  You can throw the rest of it out.”.  THROW IT OUT?? I was stuck with a dilemma that would have tested Solomon.  Throw out more than half of a perfectly good pie or, on behalf of all the starving children in China that I heard so much about growing up, save it for another day – or two.  Being the good Samaritan that I am, I opted for the latter.  So that’s how I found myself at the kitchen counter eating pie.  At first I just cut the tiniest of slivers but then the pie was uneven, so I had to cut a bit more from the other side.  Which of course was not at all even so then I had to go back to the first side to even it up.  Before I knew it, I had eaten a quarter of the pie.  But at least it was symmetrical by the time I was finished.  Don’t judge  – I know you’ve all been there.

As I waddled away from the kitchen I began to feel guilty about my gluttony.  I calculated how many hours I was going to have to spend on the treadmill to make a dent in my caloric intake.  Apparently I would have to walk for three days.  And then it struck me – why are we the generation that feels so darn guilty about food?  I  thought about my parents and my in-laws – all four of them lived very long lives. I don’t think any of then ever worried about eating too much. In fact I think the only time they worried about food was when they didn’t have enough. To them, the worst sin was when a hostess served “skimpy” portions. They never heard of gluten-free, cleansing, cardio workouts, sat fat, vegan diets or a gym.  Truth be told, I’d venture that the  only “gym” they got near was Jim Beam.

A thing of the past - the dreaded Jello mold

A thing of the past – the dreaded Jello mold

I think my relatives were pretty reflective of that entire generation.  Maybe it was the deprivation of the Great Depression or the sacrifices they made during the war, but they didn’t seem to obsess about food and exercise the way we Boomers do.  They were the Greatest Generation not only because of all they accomplished, but because they also perfected the sour cream/onion dip and knew how to make a splendid Manhattan highball.  When I think about the Thanksgiving tables of my childhood there was no non-fat gravy or “skinny” mashed potatoes made with cauliflower.  No, we had creamed corn, jello molds, and stuffing loaded with sausage.  Our pies were topped with real whipped cream – and lots of it. In fact one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is brother Bob and I taking the bowl of whipped cream and embarking in a food fight at the table.  And no, we weren’t little kids.  We were both in our 30’s . It’s possible we had consumed a bit too much wine.  But back to my point – our parents lived long lives despite their love of fatty foods and arm chairs.

So what was their secret?  It’s probably not practical to come up with just one hypothesis for an entire generation so I’ll stick with my own family.  When I think about my dad and my mother-in-law in particular they both were just a little plump, they both loved a good party, they both loved to eat and they both enjoyed a daily cocktail.  Sometimes more than one.  More importantly, they were two of the most happy, fun, positive people I ever met.  They were too busy enjoying life to let a few calories get in their way.  And, no surprise, everyone enjoyed being around them too.  And why not?  They were either eating, drinking or laughing.  Not a bad way to go through life.

After giving this some thought I’ve decided that just having a positive attitude is the best recipe for growing old.  So this week on my trip to Costco I’m going to pick up the apple pie.  Purely for testing, of course.  And when my disciplined husband has had his fill, I will happily slump over the counter and eat the rest.  I’m calling it “The Greatest Generation Diet”.

SEEING STARS IN SUN VALLEY

Igrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable skiing in Sun Valley

Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable skiing in Sun Valley

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, if it’s September, we must be going to Sun Valley. Yep, like lemmings to the sea, each September we migrate to Idaho in search of great hiking, spectacular golf, and cooler air. That last part becomes very important this time of year – our lows in Scottsdale last week averaged 84. The 10 day forecast for Sun Valley has the lows in the 30’s. I may just sit outside in the mornings with a cup of coffee until ice forms on either it or me.

Friends often wonder why we return to Idaho every year. People who haven’t been there usually ask something along the lines of, “Oh, do you have to go see family”? Like it is some obligatory trip that we take to an ugly part of the country to see people we don’t much like who require that we sleep on a hide-a-bed in their basement. But people who have been lucky enough to visit Sun Valley ask us if they can climb into our suitcase. Since its inception it has been the playground for many celebrities – Ernest Hemingway lived (and died) there and Gary Cooper and Clark Gable made regular visits to ski and hunt. Since we’ve been going there for 26 years we’ve also seen our share of modern-day movie stars, although they don’t seem quite as big as Cooper or Gable. Maybe some version of that line from “Sunset Boulevard” applies here – the scenery is the same, it’s the stars who have gotten smaller. My husband spent 30 minutes talking to Arnold Schwarzenegger once about tax policies in California, but even though he’s big, I’m not sure he counts as a “star”. We’ve seen Candice Bergen, Muriel Hemingway and I once ran across Jamie Lee Curtis in a store. I was tempted to tell her that the Activia really wasn’t working for me but then my better angels prevailed.

The Lodge at Sun Valley - made of concrete poured to look like wood

The Lodge at Sun Valley – made of concrete poured to look like wood

From the outset, the Sun Valley resort was marketed as a haven for the rich and famous. It was developed by Averell Harriman, who was chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 30’s. He was an avid skier and after the success of the Lake Placid Olympics in 1932 he correctly assumed that Americans would develop a keen interest in winter sports. Harriman had the idea of building the first destination ski resort in the U.S. in a place so remote that – what a coincidence – the only way to get there was via the Union Pacific Railroad.  In 1935 Harriman hired an Austrian count, Felix Schaffgotsch, to travel across the western United States to find the perfect setting for a ski area. When Schaffgotsch visited Ketchum, Idaho he decided that the combination of good snowfall, sunshine and the perfect ski mountain was where Harriman should build. Harriman started construction immediately and then hired a marketing genius to spread the word. Harriman was afraid that people would not be attracted to the cold climes of Idaho, so he named the resort “Sun Valley” to conjure up images of warmth and coziness. He installed the world’s first round swimming pools to garner more attention and they did.  Sun Valley took off as a locale synonymous with great skiing, fine dining and first-class entertainment.

But the really interesting history of Sun Valley lies in the story of the ski school. Count Schaffgotsch helped Harriman attract the top ski instructors in the world, including Friedl Pfeifer. Pfeifer was Austrian and not only the most famous downhiller in the world, he also managed to carve out time to teach between racing circuits. His pupils ranged from the famous (Claudette Colbert) to the infamous (Rudolph Hess). In 1937 he fled Austria weeks after Hitler’s invasion and was lured to Sun Valley, just in time for the opening of the ski school. As it turns out, Schaffgotsch was a huge admirer of Hitler and among the Austrian instructors he recruited to Sun Valley were several avowed Nazis. From 1937 to the outbreak of the war, they put Sun Valley’s ski school on the map and, despite the instructors’ political leanings, people flocked there by the thousands to learn from the very best.

Friedl Pfeifer as a dashing ski instructor

Friedl Pfeifer as a dashing ski instructor

But the shadow of World War II loomed large. Once the war broke out, Schaffgotsch and several other instructors returned to the “Fatherland” to enlist in Hitler’s army. Schaffgotsch joined the SS and while he was in Italy he received a letter from Harriman letting him know that his duties were complete at Sun Valley but that he was welcome as a guest at any time.  The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed FBI agents from Salt Lake City descended on Sun Valley to investigate reports of Nazi sympathizers among the ski school staff. Three of the most prominent instructors were arrested, including Pfeifer. Pfeifer and several other Austrian instructors enlisted in the U.S. Army and had distinguished war records as part of the 10th Mountain Division.

In 1942, Harriman offered up the Sun Valley Lodge to the Navy to serve as a hospital for both officers and enlisted men. He thought the quiet and solitude of this remote mountain village would sooth their war sufferings. Most of the men enjoyed the peacefulness of the Wood River Valley, but some found the isolation difficult. No matter, the resort remained in service to the Navy until war’s end and did not re-open until the spring of 1946. Most of the instructors came back to Sun Valley after the war and were instrumental in advancing the burgeoning ski industry. Pfeifer returned to the U.S. and settled in Colorado where he helped found the Aspen ski resort.   Ironically, Schaffgotsch was killed in Russia during Harriman’s stint as our ambassador to that country.

In 1995 we were lucky enough to be in Sun Valley when a memorial to the 10th Mountain Division was erected on the Sun Valley grounds. We watched as several elderly men, some in uniform, paid tribute to their fallen comrades. They were a spry and inspiring group, unbowed by the years with their physical prowess still much in evidence. As far as I’m concerned, they were the biggest stars we’ve ever seen in Sun Valley.

And speaking of stars, let me pass along a friendly reminder to ‘Like’ my brother’s video (every 24 hours) at the link below:

http://www.bestjobaroundtheworld.com/submissions/view/4459

BUT IT’S A DRY HEAT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

weather mapWell, here we are. The dog days of summer only…oh yeah, it’s only the first of JULY! Everyone on the West Coast is experiencing a heat wave but aside from Death Valley (aptly named this time of year I might add), Arizona is as hot as a place can be without actually experiencing spontaneous combustion. Right about now our nickname of “Valley of the Sun” changes to “Face of the Sun”. But just as people prepare to live in Minneapolis or Fargo in January, we denizens of the desert have also learned the best way to adapt to summer: we make lists. Those of us who spend any time here frying in the summer heat start making lists of projects to undertake when it’s just too darned hot to venture outside. Usually my list is filled with really exciting stuff – alphabetizing the spice rack, sorting socks, reviewing just how it is that I didn’t lose those last 10 pounds over the winter.

One staple on my list is “clean out closets”. I don’t know what happens over the course of a year to mess them up. Surely it isn’t anything I’ve done. I’ve long suspected that little elves come at night with U-Hauls full of crap to dump in my storage areas. However, as it happens, each summer I spend a good part of my time throwing stuff out. My litmus test for every piece of paper, dusty lampshade or two-year old box of oatmeal is this: if we sold our house would I pay to move or store this item? It’s amazing how quickly that separates the wheat from the chaff. Or in this case, the possible antique from the junk that wouldn’t sell at a garage sale.

So on Saturday, when the temperature reached 119, my choice was to begin to work on “my list” or spend the day looking at the beach on Google Maps. I chose to clean closets. I started with my office – or as I like to think of it – the low hanging fruit of closet cleaning. Amongst all of the paraphernalia I found a box from my working days. It was a treasure trove of useless junk, most of which no longer has any appreciable use. For example, I don’t know why I brought the desk plaque with my name and title on it home. I’m fairly certain that my husband and the dog know my name. I found a file that contained every performance review that I had received since 1987. Really. What in the heck did I ever think I would do with them? Surely the neighbors are not interested in coming over for a robust discussion about my goals in 1994 no matter how much wine I give them. I had congratulatory letters from my promotions and cards that people had written to thank me for something that I can no longer remember. Worst of all, I had saved all of the cards I received when I retired. Worst, not because I had kept them, but because I couldn’t remember who half of those people were. (On the flip side, I was amazed how many people I do stay in touch with. Thank you, Facebook.)

At the bottom of the box was a file labeled “Interesting Articles” . Over my working years I would collect magazine articles or newspaper columns that I found either motivating or inspirational. Anyone who ever worked for me became familiar with my “worth sharing” memos. And now, looking back on it, I suspect that most of the time my pearls of wisdom went to the bottom of their reading pile and then mysteriously found its way into the waste paper basket. But now that I’d found the file I was curious to read them again and see if they stood the test of time. And you know what? They have. I guess whether you’re a business executive or just the head pooper scooper, there are some things that remain constant.

For example, one of my favorite articles was titled “Not Everything Is Worth Doing Well”. When I first read it back in 1986 it was a real revelation for my Type A-perfectionist-drive everyone crazy personality. Back in the day there wasn’t much I did that was slap-dash, if one can overlook some rather unfortunate hairstyles. Even now, some people might say that I’m wound a bit too tight. Some people like my husband or anyone else who has spent more than an hour in my company. But the gist of the article is that you can drive yourself crazy trying to do absolutely everything to perfection. The author suggests that we prioritize our tasks and give our all only to the items at the top of the list. For example, she says that housecleaning doesn’t always need our very best effort. See? I told you it was a great article. Now if people look at my dusty coffee table with disdain I can tell them with clear-eyed conviction that “dusting” simply isn’t near the top of my list. Think of the possibilities. If I really focus I think I can add several more domestic chores that simply aren’t worthy of my time. Like cleaning closets. Next year, it goes to the bottom of the list.  I’m going to the beach.

 

THE BACKYARD BLOG ABOUT NOTHING

by Bob Sparrow

nothing1I know I don’t always succeed, but I always try to write something entertaining about where I’ve been or where I’m going, as I love travel and I seem to look at things from a little different perspective than most others. Or I’ll write about some little, but hopefully interesting, observation of life. Sister Suzanne does a particularly great job of the latter – I mean really, she brought us to tears last week writing about taking her dog for a walk out to the end of her driveway. Me – not so much, as I said, I usually rely on ‘going somewhere’ and hoping to find something interesting to write about.

sb coast

Santa Barbara coast

Last week I was supposed to go on a camping trip along the Santa Barbara coast, exploring the beaches and cliffs of this beautiful area, but for various reasons that I’m sure you’re not interested in – heck, I’m not even that interested – the trip was cancelled. So there I was, ready to regale you with my adventurous treks along the beautiful Central Coast and now I’ve got nothing. Didn’t go anywhere. Didn’t see anything interesting. Nothing extraordinary happened to me. Didn’t discover any special or unique places. I’ve got nothing. Even though Seinfeld made a career out of it, it’s hard to write about nothing. Although some have said there’s a lot of nothing in many of my previous blogs.

pal2

Deck-side umbrella table and palapa

fireplace

Outside fireplace

So last weekend instead of camping in the Chumash Mountain Wilderness, I wandered around in my backyard. No, I didn’t camp there, although there have been occasions, when the kids were younger, when I’d pitch a tent on the back lawn, spend the night in it and be awakened in the morning by the sprinklers that I forgot to turn off. So, this week my ‘going somewhere’ turned out to be my backyard, and while I enjoy putzing around back there, I’m not finding anything of interest to write about this week. Unlike my sister’s backyard, which has Pinnacle Peak, I have no natural landmarks. I do however have some ‘man-made’ landmarks and so I wander around back there trying to find inspiration from them. I look past the pool deck umbrella table where no one is sitting to the palapa that no one is sitting under, and I get no inspiration . . . nothing. I check the ‘Tiki Bar’ to see if there are any stragglers left over from the weekend, perhaps with a good story to tell that would make for an interesting blog . . . nothing. I recently bought a new umbrella for our outside fireplace area, and although it’s nice, it’s hardly blog-worthy. I crank up some Jimmy Buffet music through the outside speakers hoping to get some inspiration from him . . . nothing. We bought this house new 28 years ago and the backyard was just dirt . . . nothing. And today in terms blog inspiration . . . nothing. I’m thinking maybe I should talk to some of the plants; perhaps they’ll talk back and give me something to write about. I bend down and put my ear to the hydrangeas . . . nothing.

bar

The Tiki Bar

plumeria

Plumeria

 

Behind the pool is what I called my ‘Ho’omana’O Honopua’, which loosely translate in Hawaiian to ‘Memorial Garden’. I love Hawaii, so my intent with this garden was to bring Hawaii to my backyard, so I wouldn’t have to pay airfare or expensive hotel rates to enjoy the sights and smell of palms and plumeria. I’ve told my family that I’d like my ashes under the moai (stone monoliths from Easter Island – a bucket list destination) on the right in the picture below. It is already a memorial garden in that when I returned from my best friend, Don Klapperich’s funeral, I purchased the moai on the left in the picture below and buried under it a shell casing from the rifles fired during the military memorial service.

memorial garden

Ho’ Omana ‘ o Honopua

It’s getting dark and there will be no lights turned on in the backyard tonight, no tiki torches lit, no music playing, no adult beverages consumed; there will be, like this blog . . . nothing.

 

THERE’S JOY AROUND THE CORNER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

autismYou know that it’s an odd news week when the death of 14 people in an industrial explosion is relegated to page eight.  Or when a ricin-laced letter to the President generates all the excitement of an AARP renewal notice.  The story about catching the person who killed the district attorney down in Texas was a footnote.  But the real indicator that we were in a serious news cycle was the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries divorce was only of interest to the supermarket tabs.

No, last week we were all focused on the horrible terrorist act in Boston – the deaths, the injuries, the perpetrators and the heroes.  The story was all-encompassing and riveting.  For much of the week it was sad and worrisome.  I heard more than one person lament that our world just isn’t the same.  Friends of a “certain age” talked about how their grandchildren would never know a life where they didn’t have to worry about terrorists, bombs and taking their shoes off before a flight.

I, too, was in this frame of mind last week as I set off on my daily walk with Dash.  Since he’s still a puppy we usually just go around the corner and back.  And frankly, I’m being generous when I use the term “walk” – it’s more that he stops and sniffs everything while I check emails on the phone.  But on this particular walk we saw a car parked at the end of a driveway with a mom and her son. We had seen them before on our walks and always gave them a little wave.  But last week as we passed, the mom rolled down the passenger side window and the little boy stuck his head out to greet us.

Dash and I walked over to their car.  It turns out that the boy (who for purposes of this essay we’ll call “Sam”), is severely autistic.  He had a tussle of curly hair and a big smile.  I spoke with his mom a bit – she was cheerful and patient with Sam as he wiggled in his seat.  I was reminded of the saying that God only gives us what we can handle.  This woman has been given a lot to handle and seemingly does so with an abundance of grace.

I picked Dash up so that Sam could see and pet him.  Dash, as is his wont, stuck his tongue out in an effort to barrage Sam with kisses.  Sam, not able to communicate well, did what seemed logical – he stuck his tongue out at Dash.  The two of them nuzzled in a frenzy of excitement – Dash frantically wagging his tail and Sam giggling at Dash’s kisses. At that moment I realized I was witnessing  joy in its purest sense.  Neither of them could talk; neither of them had to.

A few moments later the school bus pulled up and out stepped the driver, Jim, and his wife/assistant, Janetta.  They were straight out of Central Casting.  He was tall and lanky with an easy smile.  She was caring and sweet.  They greeted us and then went about the business of getting Sam onto the bus.  Janetta told Sam how nice his hair looked while Jim tenderly helped him up the steps.  Once Sam was settled in his seat, Janetta nestled in right next to him.  As they pulled away Jim gave us a big wave out the window.  It felt like something I would have witnessed as a kid in my small town.

So as Dash and I turned for home I felt more content than I had all week.   I knew that when I got home the news on TV might still be stressful but I had just been reminded that there are far more good people than bad in this world.  There are people who are heroic every day.  There is joy to be found every day. And sometimes it’s just around the corner.