THOUGHTS ON SPRING, ANGRY BIRDS AND BASEBALL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Spring has sprung, the flowers has riz, I wonder where the birdies is?….Anonymous.

Soehrensia bruchii flowers 4 inch

Spring has definitely come to the desert.  As both my brother and I have mentioned in recent weeks (probably ad nauseam), the flowers in the desert are truly one of nature’s miracles.  They pop up almost overnight and bloom in magnificent colors – brilliant orange, pink, and yellow.    They signal the end of cold weather and the beginning of spring.  Of course, my brother has the advantage of viewing the beautiful flora here in the desert and then returning home to the wonderful climate of Orange County.  I, on the other hand, see the beautiful flowers and know that we will be enjoying springtime for a maximum of – to be on the generous side – 10 days.  Then, like someone has flipped the switch to a blast furnace, we begin our season of “dry heat”.  As I’ve often said when someone mentions that term – my microwave oven is also a dry heat but you don’t see me living in that, now do you?

The other sign that spring has come is that the birds start to fly about in great numbers.  They chirp endlessly – some sort of mating call I suppose.  If this year is any indication, we’re going to have a HUGE bird population in the next few months.  The most annoying birds are the woodpeckers who love the flashing on the roof that surrounds the fireplace chimneys.  Apparently woodpeckers must be related to roosters because at the most un-Godly hours in the morning they begin rat-a-tat-tatting on our roof.  Their constant pecking echos down the metal chimney flue to create the most startling sound known to man.  Or at least that’s how it seems at 4:30 in the morning.  This is such a problem that several men in the neighborhood have taken to shooting BB guns at them – a la the crazy father in “Steel Magnolias”.  There they are, outside before dawn, in all manner of undress, shooting at birds who are laughing their tail feathers off at the idiots trying to shoot them down.  2013-04-06 10.06.01

We unwittingly have found a way to exact revenge on all the birds.  A couple of years ago we installed a glass front door and sidelights, allowing a view to the backyard when standing at the front door.  The picture at right was taken at the door so you get the idea.   Birds, however, are not that smart. Somehow they have confused our house with a landing strip at Sky Harbor.  With the advent of spring, they are on a quest to fly right through our house. Consequently, it is not unusual to hear a loud “BAM!” and see the wingspan of a bird imprinted on our front door.  Before you even think about calling the SPCA , rest assured that no bird is injured in this process.  After they hit the door, they fly away stunned and most likely go home and take an Advil.  Usually by the end of spring word has gotten out in the bird community to stay away from the “trick” door at the Watson’s house.  But for the next few weeks we will be the pathway to hell for countless of our feathered friends.

Flowers and birds aside, the most telling sign that spring has sprung is that it’s baseball season again.  Somehow just hearing a game on the radio or on TV elicits fond memories of bygone days and gentler times.  I San_Francisco_Giants_logo_1977-1982know that people complain that the game is too slow or that the teams are composed of drug-addled, spoiled players.  But there is something nice about the timelessness of a baseball game. For me it brings back memories of our dad on a Saturday afternoon, chores done, relaxing in the back yard listening to Gil Hodges and Lon Simmons announce a Giants game.  Dad came by his love of the team honestly; his mother used to sit in her apartment sporting  a Giants cap, cheering them on through thick and thin.  I don’t think she ever missed a game – she transitioned from a huge radio in a wooden credenza, to portable radios, to television.  She never saw a Giants game in person until age 70, when our brother, Jack, treated her to a day at Candlestick.  He bought her a new cap, a hot dog, peanuts and a beer.  She was in Heaven – surely the highlight of her life.  And to this day we all love hearing Jack reminisce about that day.

So I’m glad that baseball season is here.  In full disclosure, I won’t actually watch a whole game until the playoffs.  My husband, who is an obnoxious Yankees fan, can’t sit through a whole game either.  But we have an entire summer ahead of us to catch snippets of games and root for our teams.  Ideally the Giants sweep the Yankees in the Series.  Such are the dreams of springtime.

P.S.  So many of you have written or inquired about Dana and we wanted to let you know that she is doing GREAT!  She is an amazing young woman who has a wonderful spirit.  She’ll be enjoying a few days in Palm Desert this week with family.  Nothing could be better for healing a heart.  Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and prayers during this time.

 

 

 

 

 

GOING TO THE DOGS

by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Raes five boysMy husband and I have lost our minds. We recently decided to add to our family.  No, we’re not that crazy (or young).   In February we will become parents to a 12 week old Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The picture at left shows the litter at 8 days old. We don’t know yet which one will be ours, but I’m hoping it’s the smart one.  I am aware of the pitfalls of a new puppy – we can say goodbye to sleep, sanity and our clean white carpeting. On the other hand, if “Puppy Breath” was sold as perfume it would be a best seller.

I haven’t owned a dog in 25 years so I thought I should become familiar with the modern dog world. Conveniently, PetSmart was sponsoring its annual Holiday Pet Festival near us this past weekend. It offered an opportunity to see (and pet) dogs, peruse the latest dog supplies and hopefully pick up some tips.  And it was free.  The perfect storm.

The festival was held at West World, which is a HUGE exhibition center where they hold the Barrett-Jackson car auction and other large events. I figured they would cordon off a small portion of it for the dog soiree. But as I entered the building it became clear that I am horribly, crushingly, out of date when it comes to the dogs and the vast array of “stuff” available to them.

Twenty-five years ago my dog had a collar, leash and feeding bowls.  I fed her whatever canned dog food was on sale at the supermarket.  On a good day she got a piece of a hot dog or whatever scrap happened to hit the kitchen floor.  Apparently my  laissez-faire approach to dog ownership would now warrant an emergency call to the SPCA.

The “fesitval” made it clear that today’s dog requires vitamins, special organic, gluten-free food, freeze-dried liver treats, harnesses, and a bed that would have to pass muster at the Ritz.  And though not required, it was strongly suggested that if you love your dog at all you should purchase a dog massage, a day at the doggie spa, blinged out collars and sunglasses.  I won’t even go into the ridiculous costumes being offered but really…some of these outifts would embarrass Lady Gaga.

All in all it was a fun day.  There were small dogs and large dogs, and dogs that looked like they wanted to be anywhere else:

small dogs

large dogs

bored dogs

But my favorite was the dog who decided, right in the middle of the arena, to “do it’s business”.  Big time.  And guess what breed it was?  A Cavalier King Charles spaniel.  I think I’m going to need a bigger shovel.

THE UNDECIDED

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

We’ve been hearing a lot the past few weeks about the “undecided” voter in the presidential election. At this point it seems that most people have made up their minds about which candidate will screw up the country for the next four years. But there remains a significant percentage of people who are unable to make a decision, even though there are pretty big differences between the two candidates. The other night a major broadcaster was skeptical that anyone could still be undecided. He obviously does not work with the public.

Nine years ago, after retiring as a bank executive, I decided to take a job one day a week doing something fun. So I signed on at the local yarn shop. I hadn’t worked with actual customers since college and, for the most part, it’s been fun. The average client walks in, chooses a pattern and some yarn, and walks out happy. Sometimes a person asks for help and after a few basic questions the right project is selected.  It’s all done within 30 minutes.

But then we have the “undecideds”. They typically walk in and say “I have no idea what I want to make.” Okay, I’ll say, let’s narrow that down – a sweater, hat, golf club cover? Perhaps some steel wool so you can knit yourself a washing machine, I joke. But I am speaking to the wall. No pattern is quite right, no texture is appropriate, no color just the right shade. The quandary over a skein of yarn is beyond comprehension. A long time ago my brother, Jack, taught me this: the important thing about a decision is to MAKE one.

My favorite example of an “undecided” was when a tourist came in one day, completely befuddled. She asked me if I had a yarn that would match her brown coat. She somehow assumed that I would know exactly what her brown coat looked like. I wanted to say, “Lady, I don’t even know you, much less your brown coat”. But after an hour of searching for yarn, gnashing of teeth (me) and tentative murmurings (her), she made a selection. I’ve often wondered if the brown coat was happy.

I really worry about these people once they leave the store. If they have this much trouble picking out yarn, how in the heck to they make more critical decisions? I shudder to think of these people picking out something more permanent, like carpeting. The texture selection alone must give them the vapors.  Colleges for their kids?  They must have to start when they’re in kindergarten to reach a decision in time.

But you don’t have to work in a yarn store to experience these people. They are the ones in the front of the line at Starbucks, completely undone by the choices. Tall or grande? Foam or whip? The choice between bold or mild is enough to send them into an apoplectic state. These unsure souls are the reason that the wait is usually interminable.

So, back to the election.  Apparently in some states there are so many “undecideds” that the whole darn state is considered to be a “swing” factor in this election. As far as I’m concerned these people are getting what they deserve: a barrage of negative, mean-spirited campaign ads. But I have news for the campaign managers. If an “undecided” can’t choose between red or blue yarn, choosing a President of the United States is a reach beyond their grasp.

THE UPSIDE DOWN BUCKET LIST

by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     Every time I pick up a newspaper or a magazine lately it seems there’s an article about someone working on their “bucket list”.  Boomers everywhere are compiling lists of things to do before they die: climb Mt. Everest, sail around the world or buy a red Corvette.  My brother has done an admirable job of checking off his “to do” list; most of his feats require a lot of conditioning and some derring-do.  Except seeing the General Patton Museum – that just took a high tolerance for boredom.

     I used to have a bucket list.  Actually, it wasn’t so much a list as an item.  I only had one thing I wanted to do – hang glide.  For thirty years I’ve watched hang-gliders with admiration. I was in awe of their fearlessness and their obvious gold standard medical plan.  But in the last year or so I’ve finally come to the realization that I won’t be jumping off a cliff anytime soon.  For a while I thought I might take a page from George H.W. Bush’s skydiving book and go tandem.  Now I’ve decided that unless I get that same cute Army Ranger to hang on to, it’s just not going to happen.

     So earlier this year I decided to flip things around.  Instead of a bucket list, I started to compile a list of the 10 best events that I have already experienced.  In other words, I started an Upside Down Bucket List.  My only rule was that nothing on the list could be “obvious” – like a wedding day.  Given that I have a hard time remembering what I had for dinner last night, it has taken me months to recall 10 events worthy of the list.

     I started off with five items that were major moments.  Those were easy.  The next five took more thought and retrospection.  I was surprised when something as mundane as a movie or listening to someone else’s adventures would spark a memory of something I’d long forgotten.  I would jot down events as I thought of them and then mull over whether they were worthy of the final five slots.  It was lost on me that no one else was ever going to see this list – my obsessive/compulsive nature took over and I needed it to be perfect.  Perhaps one of my activities should have been to visit a good shrink.

     Of course, dredging up memories causes some not so great days to be recalled too.  Like the time I fell down an entire flight of escalators at a BART station (everything in tact except my dignity) or when I walked in late to a wedding and realized after 10 minutes that it wasn’t my friends’ wedding (ever tried to skulk out of church quietly?).  Those days definitely did not make the list but for a moment I did think about compiling a list of my 10 most embarrassing days.

     After months of thinking and reminiscing, I have finalized my Upside Down Bucket List.  Final for now anyway; I’ve reserved the right to add and delete as my memory allows.  It’s interesting to take a step back and review it.  I’m not sure exactly what it says about me, but my list divides into three categories:  Adventure, Family, and Personal Achievements. I won’t bore you with the list but I can assure you that each item brings back great memories – whether it was challenging myself physically, a great conversation with my dad, or an unexpected success.

     It’s been a fun experience.  It was harder than I thought it would be but it also more rewarding.  Each time I look at the list it brings a smile to my face or a boost to my confidence.  So I’d encourage you to do it – it’s a great way to remember the good times.  And a lot safer than leaping into thin air with some flimsy wings strapped on your back.

HEY, SAILOR, NEW IN TOWN?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week my brother took us on an adventure – or lack of adventure – with an old Army general.  This week we’ll continue with the military theme and go aboard the USS Iowa.

My husband, Alan, brother Bob and I visited the “Battleship of Presidents” last month at its new home in San Pedro, CA.  Being a World War II buff, and always one to light up at the mere mention of Fleet Week, I thought this would be an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.  It was…just not in the way I expected.

When arriving at the harbor I looked around for a huge ship – after all, the Iowa  is a battleship, for crying out loud.  But as we pulled into the parking lot, I was still looking around for a big ship.  Take it from me; battleships are very low to the … well, sea.  I think I was imagining an aircraft carrier, which both Alan and Bob assured me are much taller.

In any event, once piped aboard we found that there are no official tours.  The Iowa had only been open for a month and the plan is to have guided tours within the next year.  Until then visitors follow painted arrows on the floor (or “deck” as they insisted on calling it).  Let me say right here that this is not a tour for anyone with any physical limitations; we climbed up and down stairs, stepped over those little barrier thingies between rooms, and had to squeeze through narrow passageways.  People with claustrophobia or who are on the heavier side of the scale should not plan their next summer vacation around a visit to the USS Iowa.

Nevertheless, the Iowa  is an impressive ship with an equally impressive history.  The Iowa  was in Tokyo Harbor on the day World War II ended and it provided the platform from which Reagan presided over the ceremony for the Statue of Liberty’s restoration ceremony. George H.W. Bush officiated at its recommission and sadly, at the memorial for 47 sailors who died in the accidental explosion of a gun turret.  It was home to many brave men and women who served our country and it now provides us civilians with a real appreciation for life on a battleship.

The photographs and artifacts in the officer’s quarters provided the most graphic history of the Iowa.  There was a giant map of the ship’s cruises, from its launching in 1943 to its decommission in 1990.  In 1943 it took FDR to Casablanca for the summit with Stalin and Churchill.  The captain, having a firm grasp of the organization chart, vacated his quarters and lent FDR his “luxurious” suite.  Here is a picture of the bed that Roosevelt slept in with the specially woven Presidential bedspread:

Due to FDR’s polio, the captain also installed a hot tub (pictured below) for that cruise.  This was a man who clearly wanted to progress up the ranks.

I’m thinking that Roosevelt didn’t actually play with that rubber ducky.  The visit to the captain’s quarters only confirmed that we have a long tradition of wasteful government spending in this country.

Moving on, we climbed endless steps up and down through the various compartments and decks.  Without a formal tour guide, I had to rely on the descriptions and explanations that Alan and Bob rattled off – two people who never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  I have no idea if even half of what they told me is true, but there were times when they were so animated that a crowd gathered to listen to their “expert” commentary.  The oft-used mnemonic for Iowa – Idiots Out Walking Around – came to mind.

Here are the two of them – Bob not knowing which is the business end of a 16″ gun barrel and Alan showing off his guns.  You can see what I was up against.

Despite the Iowa  still being in shakedown mode, one facet of the ship was up and ready to go – the gift shop.  Not a trick had been missed in setting it up.  There were the requisite t-shirts and caps, of course, but they also sold golf ball markers, a Stryker marshmallow gun, and a book called “Airigami: Realistic Origami Aircraft” in case you’re looking to kill some time at your next staff meeting.

All in all, the  USS Iowa is well worth seeing, but my recommendation is to visit when they have their official tours available.  If you go before that, just make sure that the person up on the bridge doesn’t look like this:

SURVIVING MARRIAGE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Whenever our late dad was asked how long he’d been married, he would jokingly respond,  “I’ve survived 43 years of indentured servitude”.   He was the type of guy who could get away with such a statement, with a twinkle in his eye and a hearty chuckle.  My husband tried it once and received an icy stare.

But icy stares aside, this week we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  Where in the heck does the time go?  It seems like only yesterday that we were standing before the minister thinking, “What in the heck have I gotten myself in to?”

A few weeks ago a young person asked us how long we’ve been married.  When we told him we were sneaking up on 25, he asked us for the secret to a long marriage.  We were stumped for an answer.  Commitment, enthusiasm, insanity?  Probably some combination of them all.   I actually like the late Erma Bombeck’s assessment of marriage. She wrote that it isn’t the big things, like money and sex, which ruin a marriage; it’s the small annoyances adding up that suddenly made one spouse take a pick axe to the other in the dark of night.  She used examples of putting empty ice cube trays back in the freezer and refusing to walk across the room to change the TV channel.  I guess today it would be not charging the iPad or deleting a favorite show from the DVR listing.

Regardless of the era, her point is well taken.  I think a jury of my peers would have found me perfectly justified in strangling my husband for repeatedly leaving dirty dishes on top of the dishwasher, placing empty milk cartons back in the refrigerator and assuming I’m his personal secretary.  And although I’m almost sure I’ve been the very essence of human kindness over these years, perhaps he might have a thing or three to cite me for as well.  But we’ve never let the small things get in the way.  The real secret to a happy marriage?  A very short memory.

It also helps to have the same metabolisms.  How many couples have divorced because one spouse is ridiculously cheerful in the morning and the other needs six cups of coffee before grunting “Hand me the sports section.”?  We know a couple who only have about 10 waking hours when their lives intersect.  Who knows, maybe those 10 hours are enough. Especially when you’re both retired.

All I know for sure is that this week will will commemorate 25 wonderful years by going to a fine (and by “fine” I mean expensive) restaurant.  But what I’m really looking forward to are all the days that follow.  As Judith Viorst once said, “Recognize joy when it arrives in the plain brown wrappings of everyday life”.  My joy is found when the two of us are alone on our sofa, laughing and chatting.  And in those moments I am confident in the knowledge that he’s still going to put an empty milk carton back in the refrigerator.  After 25 years you learn to choose your battles.

THE MOTHER TRUCKER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     A couple of years ago I was the victim of a photo radar camera. I say “victim” because I was only going eight miles over the speed limit and besides, I was busy making my grocery list in my head.  Obviously I didn’t have time to read that pesky speed limit sign.  A few days after I was “flashed” I got a ticket in the mail along with a photo of me speeding.  I was certain that they had the wrong person; I would never leave the house with that slap-dash make-up job and my hair in such disarray. But the car was definitely mine so I had to face the fact that the slovenly person speeding down the road was me.

     My choice was to pay the fine, which would result in a car insurance premium resembling the national debt, or attend an all-day traffic school.  My friends encouraged me to do nothing and wait until the process-server found me.  Perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of “Locked Up” but I didn’t want any part of evading the law; I signed up for traffic school.  Traffic school, for those of you goody two shoes who have never been to one, consists of 8 hours of sitting in a cheap hotel room listening to someone drone on about arcane traffic laws, while sitting next to people who have committed God knows what crime.

     Okay, that might be a bit overly dramatic.  Turns out, 95% of my class was there due to photo radar cameras.  Our instructor, Rosie, was a woman who had spent the better part of her working years as a truck driver.  As in an 18 wheeler, big semi truck.  She was married and had raised her children while on the road.  Rosie referred to herself as “the Mother Trucker”.  She made the class as interesting as possible, which is quite a feat when you’re discussing curb colors and stopping distances.  In short, Rosie was just the kind of person you’d love to meet at that greasy spoon truck stop because you know she’d offer you some Tums.

     During a portion of her instruction (I believe it was concerning merges or something – the whole day was sort of lost on me) Rosie extolled the virtues of truck drivers.   At this point a few people in class felt it necessary to prolong our agony by relating their recent encounters with deranged truckers.  On and on they babbled, each one trying to better the last, completely unaware that no one cared one whit about their stories.  Imagine a cocktail party where you’re cornered by the biggest bore in the room, only you don’t have a cocktail.  Rosie finally took charge, telling us that everything we eat, wear or touch was at some point on a truck, and that we should be forever grateful for truckers.

     In my overwhelming desire to get home I did not share my opinion then, but I’m going to share it now:  truck drivers are the biggest menace on the road today.  Period. This was not always so.  In fact, when I learned to drive truckers were considered to be the safest drivers.  And nice – who among us didn’t do an arm pump as a kid when passing a trucker, only to have him blast his horn and smile?  When I was in my early twenties a friend and I were driving up to Squaw Valley on a Friday night and were so engrossed in our discussion about skiing (okay, it was probably about ski patrol guys) that we didn’t notice that the gas tank was emptying.  As we ascended Highway 80,  just shy of the summit and in complete darkness, our car gradually lost power and stopped on the side of the road.  A few minutes later a truck driver pulled over to see if he could help.  He quickly diagnosed the problem (we were idiots) and offered to take us up to Norden to the gas station.  We merrily – and unthinkingly – hopped in his truck to go get gas.  I shudder when I remember this – we were lucky we didn’t end up in some sex slave harem in Indonesia.  But such were the times – truck drivers were the good Samaritans of the road.

     Nowadays, as I have previously related, my husband and I do a lot of driving trips.  So as other people know airports, we know roads.  I cannot even begin to count the number of times over the past several years that we have been cut off by a speeding truck.  On a trip last week we noticed a truck veering from one lane to the other.  We cautiously approached him and as I peered in his window, he was eating a sandwich with one hand and holding a coke in the other.  He was obviously under the mistaken impression that he could drive with his knees.  I have seen truckers reading, texting, talking on the phone, rifling through paperwork, and snuggling up with their girlfriends (to put it delicately).  Imagine – we used to think catching someone picking their nose was a noteworthy event!

     I know that nowadays truckers are often freelancers and paid by the job; the faster they can complete their “run” the more money they make.  I just wish they all had the same sensibilities as Rosie.  In other words, we need more mother truckers on the road.

THE SENIOR DECAY-THLON

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The quadrennial Summer Olympics are upon us this week.  I have to admit that I’m a sucker for all things related to the Games.  I like the schmaltzy stories about athletes overcoming physical challenges, dysfunctional families, and swimsuits that ride up.  I even like the commercials the first time through and then, through the magic of the DVR, I whiz through the next several hours’ worth of their re-runs.

As magnificent as these elite athletes are they do have a big advantage: they practice.  They devote endless hours to getting faster, stronger and more agile.  Their family and friends support them in the effort.  Shoot, there’s even a place on our tax form so we all can support them.

Compare that to those of us who are suddenly thrust into the indignities of aging.  Without any notice (or, might I say, practice) whatsoever, we become slower, weaker and more awkward; we can’t see, can’t hear and noises come out of places that really should be silent.

I’m going to write the IOOC to suggest that if they really want to see people triumph over adversity they should establish a new event – the Senior Decathlon.  Here are the 10 events for which medals should be awarded:

  • Track:   A gold medal to the person who makes the fastest nocturnal trip to the bathroom.  Event divided into Walker, Cane and Wheel Chair categories. There would also be an Endurance award for those who can actually get through an entire night without getting up to pee.
  • Conditioning:  In this event the medal goes to the person who can spend the most minutes reading in bed.  Points will be deducted for reading the same paragraph over and over.
  • Best Reply to “How Are You Doing?”: A gold medal will be awarded to the athlete who can ramble on about the latest developments of their Disease, Condition or Procedure.  Points awarded for a) the number of listeners who stay awake for the diatribe and b) showing scars from said Disease, Condition or Procedure that require the removal of clothing.
  • Memory:  We expect a lot of entrants in this event.  The winner will be the athlete who, from a sitting position, can get up, quickly go into another room, and not remember why.
  • Grooming:  This event will reward the person who receives the most comments along the lines of “You Look Really Good”, which is code for “You look like you have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel”.
  •  Digestion:  The medal ceremony for this event will be held in the Food Court.  Award will go to athlete who can most colorfully describe the foods that don’t “agree” with them anymore.  Extra points for saying “I like it, but it doesn’t like me”.
  • The Older We Get, The Better We Were: This event has two categories – youth and work.  Awards will go to the athlete that can tell the most tear-jerking (yet completely fictitious) story about how things used to be “back in the day” and to the athlete who can most exaggerate how important/rich/influential they were at their job.
  • No Sex, No Rock ‘n Roll, But Still Doing Drugs: Because of the Baby Boomer generation, this medal will be given to the athlete has taken the most pills after age 65.
  • Aging Gracefully:  Gold medals will be given in Men’s and Women’s Categories.  Men will be judged on Longest Comb-over.  The award for Women will go to athlete who has had a face lift and does not look like a dog with its head out the car window.
  • Dental:  Finally, this event will be won by the person who can still enunciate their words through dentures, bridges and implants.  A special award will be given to anyone who still has all of their teeth.

So, that’s it.  I don’t know if the IOOC is going to act on these suggestions but just in case, I’m getting my support hose and knee braces ready for Rio.

MY (ALMOST) WEEK WITH TOM CRUISE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week we spent some time in Mammoth Lakes, as we have done most summers since the mid-80’s. We used to hike and enjoy the scenery, but then we started playing golf and such pursuits were given up for the joys of hacking our way around the local courses. In retrospect, and in assessing my golf game, I should have stuck with hiking.

My favorite hike in Mammoth is the one up to TJ Lake. It is a magnificent mountain lake, surrounded on all sides by rugged peaks and tall pine trees. And because of its remoteness, it is quiet and undisturbed – one of the last remaining places on Earth without a Starbucks. One of my fondest memories is of the last hike we took up to TJ in 1986 when I spent an afternoon reading “Gone With The Wind” by its shores. It remains one of the top 10 days of my life. Every year since then I have suggested to my husband that we do that hike again but we never have. Until last Wednesday.

We drove to Lake George, which is the trailhead for Barrett and TJ Lakes. I read all the trail markers – 1/4 mile to Lake Barrett and 1/2 mile to TJ. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But Lake George sits at 9000′ altitude and TJ is at 9265′. Only a 265′ vertical hike, you scoff? Hiking at 9000′ is like sucking in air through a rubber sheet. Shoot, base camp for Everest is 10,000′. I definitely needed a Sherpa.

We also noted numerous signs warning of the bears in the area. But my husband patted his side and confidently assured me that he had his hunting knife strapped to his belt. Every wife knows this moment: do you let your right brain take over and humor him or does your left brain shout “Are you nuts? You will be through that bear’s lower intestine before you even have the knife unsheathed!”. But, like wives everywhere, I weigh 25 years of marriage versus pointing out the ridiculousness of his plan and say nothing.

We set out, channeling our best Scouting tactics. Slow pace, traversing back and forth, stopping to rest. There was a lot of stopping to rest. But we forged on up the mountain, crossing a river using rocks for a path, hurdling a dead tree trunk, we were regular John Muir trekkers. At last we came to Lake Barrett. It is crystal blue, surrounded by pines and jagged mountains. I posted a picture of it on my Facebook page and got lots of “oohs and ahhs”. That would be enough for most people. But I wanted to see TJ. I was sure it was just over the next hill.

It actually was over the next hill, but I had forgotten that TJ is lower than Barrett. So down we went, knowing that with every step down we were going to have to make our way back up. But I was on a mission. And finally, there it was! You know how you go back to something many years later and the object you’ve tracked down is either smaller or less grand than you remembered (or in the case of my high school boyfriend, a lot shorter)? TJ was everything I remembered and more. I’ve attached a picture but it doesn’t do the lake justice. I sat there for a long while, taking it all in. And I have to admit that I got choked up a bit when I turned to leave. I don’t know why exactly, maybe just happy that I’d managed to make the hike again or maybe because I know that making a return trip with my creaky knees and arthritic back might not be possible.

As we got back down to George there was a couple standing at the fork of the trails. “Hey, folks!”, they shouted. I though they had obviously identified us as fellow members of the hiking community. But they went on…”Did you happen to see the big bear that just went through here? We don’t know which fork to take to avoid her.” I just about passed out, but my husband tapped his knife like a regular Daniel Boone, confident that he had the situation under control. I immediately went down to have my golf clubs re-gripped.

And now for the Tom Cruise part.  Turns out that he flew to Mammoth Lakes the same day we arrived to film the last scenes for his new film, “Oblivion”.  According to our waitress at the chop house (and really, who is more of an authority on local gossip than a waitress?) he stayed at the Westin next door to us and was served with more papers from Katie while he was there. Too bad we never met up with him.  I could have told him that the best place to avoid problems was up at TJ.  A New York attorney would never risk dirtying his tassel loafers climbing up that trail.

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ROAD FOOD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

My husband, big tough guy that he is, hates to fly.  He has not been on a plane in 12 years, which means that he has never experienced the joys of the TSA. When we used to fly he needed fortification so although he’s really not much of a drinker, I would fill a water bottle with vodka.  He’d order some orange juice, pour a little “water” in it, and he was set to go.  Of course, sometimes he would drink a little too much “water” and start referring to the flight attendants as “buckaroos”.

Needless to say, the old vodka/water bottle trick is no longer possible so we drive everywhere.  We actually enjoy it – he drives, I knit, read or, more commonly, eat.  Last week we made a quick trip up to Sonoma to visit my mother so I spent a lot of time in a car.  Which is another way of saying that I gained five pounds.

We always start our road trips with a stop at a Starbucks.  In fact, our starting time from any destination is dictated by their opening time.  I used to order up those delicious blueberry scones until I read that they have the caloric content of a milk shake.  Last week I briefly considered how much effort it was going to take to drive to Sonoma.  I ordered a plain bagel.

So by 5:30 a.m. I was set to go.  Normally I don’t eat breakfast until 7, but the bagel beckoned me from its bag.  By 5:45 it was history.  As the trip went on, and by “on” I mean another hour, I’m hungry again.  I look in our “feed bag” to see what I can nibble on.  Oatmeal cookies?  Great.  Oatmeal is definitely a breakfast food.

I knit, read, look out the window and realize I’m starving.  It must be lunch time.  I look at the clock- it’s 9 a.m.  Back into the feed bag.  Crackers. They’re only 30 calories each. I munch on a few of them.  And then a few more. I’m a firm believer in the theory that calories consumed while you’re in a car don’t count.

By 11:30 I was looking for the nearest restaurant.  Okay, “restaurant” might be a stretch.  I’m usually thrilled if we can find an In-N-Out but I’ve been known to settle for McDonalds.  I draw the line at Denny’s – my standards may be low but I do have some. We stop at Bob’s Big Boy and I order a salad because I’m on a diet.

Mid-afternoon brought a whole new set of challenges.  We were close to our stopping point and I was exhausted from all the driving.  But we’re staying in a new place and I had no idea what kind of food might be available.  Better load up while I’m still in the car.  A couple of handfuls of almonds, a couple of chocolate squares and some Pop Chips fortify me for whatever lies ahead.  It was more food.

It goes on like this for days.  When I’m at home I’m a three-meal-a-day person.  In the car, I eat like I’m on death row.  Some people are inspired by the lure of the road.  Me – I take any road trip as a personal challenge to see how much food a human can consume.

My vista for the upcoming week?  The view from the treadmill.