THE AGE OF RAISIN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each decade in life brings new discoveries, experiences and, let’s face it, challenges.  As a teenager absolutely everything is life-altering and of utmost importance.  Parents are so unreasonable and if Johnny doesn’t ask Mary to prom she will just die.  In my case I wondered which college would overlook my mediocre grades and focus on my sparkling personality.  And it seems everything – and everyone – is embarrassing.  Unfortunately I had a truly embarrassing incident when I got a ride home from a boy whose affections I coveted.  I had just finished gymnastics practice so  I jumped in his car and sat – speechless – clutching my bundle of street clothes, waiting for him to ask me out.  He didn’t.  And to further my humiliation, when I got home I discovered that my garter belt was missing (yes, I lived before pantyhose were mass produced).  I panicked, sifting through my pile of clothes time and time again but to no avail.  The belt was missing and the only place it could be was in the car of my “crush”.  My  horror only increased as I imagined him driving down the main drag, my garter belt flowing in the breeze atop his antenna, signifying some sort of trophy.  The next day I walked warily through the school parking lot but mercifully his antenna was unadorned.  I never did find out what happened to it but my guess is that I dropped it somewhere between the gym and the parking lot, prompting the janitor to wonder what exactly had been going on in the senior quad.  At the time I was certain that my life was ruined.  Such is the angst of the teenage years.

College and early adulthood bring their own set of challenges to most of us, from drinking too much to careless career moves.  I remember quitting a job once because I was working for one of the all-time jerks.  My friends were appalled that I could have such reckless disregard for my next rent payment.  But with the confidence of youth, and a robust job market, I went out and found a better job.  As a bonus, the jerk was fired a few months later for embezzlement.  But it’s middle age when the glow of youth begins to fade and one realizes that things aren’t working exactly as they used to .  Infallible memories begin to falter, your chin begins to look like Jabba the Hutt, and everything becomes a blur … literally.  I maintain that poor eyesight is the greatest health hazard in America.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve misread the instructions on medicine bottles and directions on maps.  I have 11 pair of “cheaters” strewn about the house but when I’m out in public I can never lay my hands on a pair from the depths of my purse.  The grocery store is the worst since I do try to read the nutrition labels.  I invariably can’t find my glasses so I end thrusting my jar of Hersey’s Fudge sauce in a young person’s face to read the label for me.  I buy it anyway.  I swear sometimes I think that millennials are designing packaging with the smallest font possible so they can amuse themselves watching us Senior Citizens move our arms back and forth trying to bring the type into focus.

Now in the third phase of life a new “fun” experience is upon me and millions like me: arthritis.  That creaking I hear is no longer the floor but the joints in my back and knees.  After confirming the diagnosis in my spine, the doctor said, “Well, you know at your age, everyone gets this”.  Don’t you just love hearing that?  In any event, after a few years of trying to find some relief a friend suggested that I try gin-soaked raisins.  I thought she was kidding but what the heck, I’ll try anything that a) might help and, b) contains alcohol. So I did a little research and sure enough, there are whole websites devoted to the subject.   Dr. Oz even did a segment on its benefits.  The theory is the combination marries the anti-inflammatory properties of the gin’s juniper berries with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of golden raisins.  Yes, before you run to the pantry for your regular old raisins, apparently only the golden variety contains the right chemicals.  On my next trip to the grocery store I bought the ingredients and made up a batch.  It takes about a week for the raisins to completely absorb the gin.  Then, per instructions, I eat 8-10 a day.  Of course, there is the matter of “eating” gin first thing in the morning.  You may get some odd looks at the PTA meeting and, I’m not sure, but it seems my dentist was looking askance at me when I had my teeth cleaned last week.   But it’s been about two months since I started this regimen and my back and knees are pain-free.  Who knows?  Maybe my next discovery will be that zucchini and rum fix blurry vision!

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  In the mean time, I’m going to buy some more cheaters for my purse.

HAPPY LABOR DAY!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

No, I’m not confused.  I know it’s not the first Monday in September.  Today is May Day.  A day that marks the unofficial beginning of Spring and, I believe, the time when weeds start outnumbering plants.  But in modern times May Day has taken on a completely different meaning and is now more closely associated with the rights of workers.  As with most things these days, my naïve memory focuses more on the former than the latter, with recollections of romping around the May Pole when I was in elementary school.  Actually, in Novato, California in the 1950’s we didn’t really have a May Pole.  I’m not even sure we had a Pole.  But each May 1 our rather imaginative teachers would festoon the tetherball post with crepe paper streamers and balloons and we thought it was magical.  We learned to dance around it, weaving under and over each other’s streamers, until we had completely smothered the post with our efforts.  Then we were supposed to reverse ourselves and unwind the streamers but instead it always ended up in a snarled mess.  Somehow through the years, at least in the U.S., we don’t celebrate the traditional way anymore.  Instead, over the past several days I’ve been reading about the “May Day” demonstrations planned for today so I got to wondering how we went from sweetness and light to tear gas.  In our continuing effort to shine some light on these burning questions today’s post is all about that journey.

As with so many of our holidays, May Day began as a pagan festival to celebrate the beginning of summer.  Yes, summer!  Spring started in February so by May everyone was ready to slap on some sunscreen and begin the summer festivities.  As Europe became increasingly Christian, the pagan holiday was dropped but May 1 was still celebrated.  Depending on the country, celebrations included either religious overtones (Catholics devoted the day to the Virgin Mary) or more secular observances, such as the Maypole dance, singing, and…CAKE!  I knew I liked this holiday.  Up until the late Twentieth Century it was also common to celebrate with May Baskets, which would be filled with flowers and perhaps some sweets and left on a neighbors doorstep.  In some cultures,  mostly in Britain, they also crowned a May Queen or the Queen of the May.  I can recall my mother asking me, “Who do you think you are…Queen of the May?” on more than one occasion so I assume the “queen” received very special treatment and probably didn’t have to dry the dishes after dinner. The crowing of the May Queen continues today in most British towns, with young girls donning flower garlands and leading the local May Day parade.  I’m guessing that gives her first spot in the cake line too which would be an added perk to the title.

But now on to the other May Day – commonly known in most parts of the world as International Workers Day.  The two days became intertwined in the late 1880’s.  On May Day 1886,  200,000 U. S. workmen engineered a nationwide strike for an eight-hour day.  The strike in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned violent when police rushed into the peaceful crowd and a bomb was thrown at them.  Seven policemen died and four of the protesting workers were shot by police.  It was subsequently known as the “Haymarket Affair”.  In 1889 the International Socialist Conference declared that  each May 1 would be observed as a day to honor labor in  remembrance of the workers lost in the Haymarket Affair.  Thus, in many parts of the world today is International Workers Day, or Labor Day, a day of worker solidarity and protest.  Over the past century there have been many protests around the world and in the U.S., most notably in Seattle, which has apparently become famous for coffee and rioting.

No doubt there will be many demonstrations today and hopefully they will all be peaceful.  As for me, I’m going to do my best Queen of the May impression and eat some cake.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Stephanie, Dana and Kristin

My brother has a backyard that should be the envy of every tropical resort in Hawaii.  No further proof is needed when you see his new profile picture on Facebook.  There he is, sitting under his palapa, amid lush greenery, holding a drink that has an umbrella on it.  Perfection!  I know that he and his family enjoy their back yard immensely (and why wouldn’t they?!) but last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a baby shower there that was, by far, the best celebration I’ve attended in the “Sparrow Tropical Gardens”.  Bob’s daughter, Dana, is eight months pregnant with her first child.  For those of you regular readers, you may recall that Dana is the one that has had multiple heart surgeries.  Three, to be precise.  So this baby was not easily come by and is all the more precious for it.   Last weekend Bob’s other daughter, Stephanie, and their best friend Kristin, hosted a baby shower for Dana and turned that verdant backyard into a pink, white and gray elephant-themed wonderland that should be on Pinterest.   The theme for the baby’s room is elephants. I didn’t realize that elephants were so popular until I went shopping and discovered that they are a thing.  There are elephant diaper bins, pacifiers, wash cloths, murals and pretty much everything else imaginable.  In my opinion, the best elephant in the room last weekend was the cake, a magnificent confection of fondant and icing.  It was truly a work of art and I worried that no one would want to cut into it.  But luckily Stephanie is  a girl after my own heart, who knows that good cake always takes precedence over art, as she sliced right through it.

                The Elephant Cake

There is something about baby showers that is so positive and up-lifting.  Not that wedding showers aren’t also full of hope, but I have the say the last one I attended had a group of women off to the side taking the over/under on how long the marriage would last.  Babies, though, are their own little miracles so we are all very excited about the new baby girl that will be here in a few weeks.   I love these family events, especially because we don’t get together all that often.  Certainly not as much as we’d like.  I loved watching Stephanie prepare everything with so much detail and Dana laugh and have fun with each of her guests.  It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating them coming into the world.  How did they get older when I didn’t?!  The whole event was spectacular, and true to form, I celebrated by eating TWO pieces of the elephant cake.  Just to be polite, of course.

I suppose every family enjoys these milestone rituals, where we all stop to take stock of where we are in the circle of life.  Which brings me to the other elephant in the room – the realization that my brothers and I are now at the top of the heap, generationally speaking.  I’ve heard people describe this as being in the family “penthouse” or at the top of the escalator.  No matter how it’s described, being the oldest generation brings with it lots of memories and a great deal more sentimentality.  So between my heightened status and all of the comments I received last week about getting rid of things, I had a revelation.  It dawned on me that I would be seeing all three of Bob’s  children over the weekend.  I thought about the family heirloom jewelry sitting in my safe deposit box, earmarked for them upon my death.  How silly!  Why wait until I’m gone to pass these things along?  So I traipsed down to the bank, pulled it all out, and then wrote each of them a letter about the provenance of each piece, the oldest dating back to 1892 and the newest to the 70’s.  So once the shower was over and it was just family and a few very close family friends, I read each of them the letter as I gave them their pieces.  Although there was not great monetary value to any of them, the sentimental factor was very high and they all appreciated knowing “the rest of the story” behind each one.  On the flight home I felt such a sense of peace – seeing their reactions to receiving these family touchstones was a highlight of my life.  Their tears and smiles made a lasting memory that I will treasure forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nationally Parked

by Bob Sparrow

Is that finger pointing at me?

Based on its popularity with our readers, Suzanne’s blog last week obviously got a lot of you thinking about antiques you have stuffed away somewhere that you inherited from your parents and haven’t yet tossed. Or you may be thinking about all the stuff you have that will become ‘antiques’ that your kids will stuff away somewhere until they get tossed. That old spinning wheel lamp of Mom’s got me to thinking about an old antique that I’m not quite sure what to do with . . . me!

You may have noticed that I’ve changed my photos on Facebook because I looked at them over the weekend and thought to myself, “Who is this guy?” He looks like a real adventurer, a regular Indiana Bob”. I think I vaguely remember someone like that, but lately he congers up California Fats. That person in the old pictures used to go on hikes to exotic places and travel to the far corners of the globe. Not so much anymore. As I sat and perused my previous blogs this year, I noted that I’ve written about bank robbers, sitting in the desert, watching the Oscars, walking (not running) on the beach, pontificating on heroes, eulogizing Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and proffering a ponderous philosophical tome on New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t gone anywhere!  I’m surprised I didn’t write about going to Nashville again, an adventure I wrote about last year, but didn’t actually go on. So I regrettably changed my photos.

Il Volo

Two weeks ago I did venture into Los Angeles, which in fact can be an adventure in itself, to see the singing group Il Volo. They are a trio of nice-looking, mid-20s Italian tenors, who made their U.S. debut on American Idol in 2011, not as contestants, but as guests, where they sang O Sole Mio. Their concert was awesome, possibly the best that Linda and I have ever seen, but the adventure to Los Angeles was without any muggings, murders or even traffic delays, thus my adventure consisted of simply sitting in a venue in another city.

My adventurous instincts were buoyed last week when I read that April 15-23 is National Park Week.  During those two weekends one can get into all National Parks for FREE. The 16th is Easter so there will be lots of tourists that day hunting for bear eggs and the 22nd is Earth Day, where we acknowledge . . . the earth . . . or something. The old me, or perhaps I should say the former me, which is the younger, thinner me, would have booked a hike in Yosemite or Yellowstone, but the new me is looking to Nationally Park my butt in an chaise lounge and watch the grandkids get frustrated trying to find the Easter eggs that I was too lazy to hide this year. I haven’t yet quite decided how I’m celebrating ‘Earth Day’, perhaps I’ll purchase a globe; on Amazon of course, so I don’t have to leave the house.

My newfound pastime of sitting also takes place when I’m plying my trade of selling Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (the old reverse mortgage, which I’ve heard had a bad reputation and my mother always said to stay away from things with bad reputations – I thus missed out on a lot of good times!) I really do enjoy working with my fellow seniors to help them with retirement financing when I can, although it seems to be making me heavier, but I’ve rationalized that it’s for a good cause. I have found that rationalization goes hand and glove with idleness.

The latest insult occurred recently when I stepped on one of those scales that print out your ‘fortune’, mine said, “One at a time please!”

But alas, summer is coming and my hip is fully healed (it’s actually been fully healed for about 5 months, but I’ve relied on it to limit my physical activity), so there are some adventures planned of which you’ll once again be coming along vicariously.   Once I’m feeling better about my increased activity level, I’ll post some more adventurous photos on Facebook as I’m not quite ready to go the way of that old spinning wheel lamp yet!

 

If you like our blog please ‘share’ on social medial; if you don’t like our blog please keep it to yourself.

NO ONE WANTS OUR STUFF

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Mom’s 1962 spinning wheel lamp

Four years ago when our mother died we had the task of cleaning out her one bedroom apartment.  We were so naïve we assumed that five of us could wrap it up in an afternoon and then spend the rest of the weekend partaking in some of Sonoma’s great food and wine.   After all, she lived in a retirement home where she received all of her meals – thus no laborious kitchen utensils, pots or dishes to pack.  We figured we’d just clean out her personal effects and arrange for someone to haul away the furniture.  Piece of cake.  Two days later we had filled 55 huge black garbage bags with stuff.   Our mom, who never struck us as a pack rat, had held on to every piece of paper she received and every photo ever taken.  Her five-drawer filing cabinet was crammed with both necessary documents and complete trash, the most striking of which was a drawer half-filled with address labels listing her former address.  She kept photos of undocumented scenery, made worse by fuzzy Polaroid technology, along with old pictures of relatives who were completely unrecognizable to us.  When the last of her 1962 maple furniture was mercifully taken away by her church thrift store, we fell into an exhausted heap and vowed to go home and immediately clean out our closets.

           Dust Collectors

Apparently we are not alone in this endeavor.  According to articles in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and several other publications, Baby Boomers are now dealing with getting rid of their parents’ possessions and simultaneously trying to downsize their own households.  The problem is…no one wants our stuff.  Our parents, shaped by the Depression and war, held on to everything.  They passed on those same values to us – to be grateful for anything that comes our way.  Especially if it’s free.  My first apartment was completely furnished with my grandmother’s furniture and I was thrilled to get it.  Now, the Gen X’ers and Millennials can cheaply outfit their living spaces with furniture from IKEA, Target or Walmart and achieve the clean, uncluttered look they desire.  Collectively they are rejecting knick knacks, sterling silver tea sets, figurines and power tools.  Instead, they take a picture of the item with their iPhone and keep it in the cloud.  Digital images don’t take up the space that old mahogany breakfronts do in a lifestyle that is mobile and  transient.  As a result, one of the fastest growing businesses in America is junk-removal services.  I shudder to think how some of my friends who collect things will react when their kids finally inherit their treasured accumulation of clowns, thimbles, and Corning Wear.  I hate to tell them that it’s all going to end up on eBay.

   Lenox Tuxedo for $5

So, back to my own resolve to keep the house clutter-free.  Last year I finally threw away my childhood scrapbook, a Junior Miss trophy, and my wedding dress.  I realized these items held sentimental value to me but were totally worthless to anyone else.  I’d rather throw them away myself than make someone else do it.  My latest idea is to get rid of my china, crystal and silver.  After all, my “good stuff” requires I cook a meal commensurate with its formality.  About a year ago I dragged it all out and had a sophisticated dinner party – beef tenderloin, hasselback potatoes, green beans almandine – the whole nine yards.  Between setting up the table and cooking the dinner, I ended up practically asleep in my soup, or wine – it all became a blur.  It was a bad night.  Clearly my formal entertaining days are over.  I contacted Replacements, the huge company that buys and sells fine china, about selling my Lenox Tuxedo.  They informed me they aren’t even buying the cup and saucers anymore but would give me $5 for the dinner, salad and bread/butter plates.  Not each – $5 TOTAL!  In turn, they are selling the same 1974 version of my pattern for $110.  That’s a profit that might even make the bankers my brother wrote about last week feel a bit like, well, bank robbers.  As for the crystal, a good friend just tried to sell hers and she told me not to bother.  She contacted a company that sells fine crystal on consignment and they admitted to her that they hadn’t sold ANY crystal in months.  “Nobody wants this stuff anymore”, he explained.  She’s now decided to use it everyday, figuring that if it gets broken or chipped it really isn’t worth anything anyway.

I do worry a bit about our collective valuables being so easily discarded by future generations.  I think the stories and family histories that are connected with these items should carry some weight.  I love that I have some of my grandmother’s crystal and think of her every time I see it.  But my brothers and I are the only people who remember her so the value to the next generation is not as dear.  I don’t know where it will end up but I will take a page from the millennials and capture it in a photo before I give it away.  After all, I love looking at the photo of our mom’s precious 1962 spinning wheel lamp, thinking about how proud she was the day she brought it home.  On the other hand, I’m glad it’s now in the cloud and not in my living room.

Bank Robbery

by Bob Sparrow

No, this is not about Jesse James, Butch Cassidy or Bonnie & Clyde, but you may better relate to them when you’re finished reading this.

I don’t typically spend a lot of time looking at my credit card bill; two reasons: usually it’s zero so there’s not much to look at, secondly if it isn’t zero I immediately pay whatever is owed and file the statement. For whatever reason, last month, I looked over my last bill fairly carefully and I noticed some scary numbers and several ‘warnings’ from the credit card company.

The first ‘warning’ was regarding the Annual Percentage Rate for various activities. For example, a regular ‘purchase’ or a ‘cash transfer’ had an Annual Percentage Rate of 13.74%. A nice return if you can get it. Oh, I guess they can! I thought that seemed rather high, until I saw what it cost for a ‘Cash Advance’ . . . 25.49%! I’m surprised there wasn’t a quote from Guido, the leg-breaker, telling me that they have ways of making me pay.

The other ‘warning’ I noticed for the first time was under the ‘Payment Information’ heading. I had paid for part of an up-coming trip (yes, I’m going to get off my fat ass later this year and go somewhere!) with my credit card, to the tune of about $5,000 and thus I was ‘warned’:

If you make no additional charges using this card and each month you pay only the minimum payment, you will pay off the balance shown on this statement in about 19 years! And you will end up paying an estimated $11,575!!!

It goes on to tell me that if there is a penalty, like a late fee, there is a limit on what interest rate the banks can charge us – 29.99%. Well thank goodness it’s not 30%!!!

I know this has been going on for a long time, but as I researched further, I realized just how the banks have been ripping us off for years and I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY LONGER! OK, maybe I am, because I don’t have any other alternative and that’s just the way the banks like it.

Here’s some historical data to chew on, or perhaps it’ll chew on you.

Stumpf: “You expect me to get by on $130,000,000 this year?”

The bank’s rate to borrow money (the discount rate) has dropped from around 14% in the early 80’s to its current level of 1%, while the banks have only dropped their credit card rate from 17% in 1980 to 13.7% today. Let me do the math for you, the bank’s rate to borrow money dropped by 93% during that time period while their credit card rate dropped by only 20%. But they certainly dropped their Certificate of Deposit rate quick enough; that rate in 1985, for a 1 year CD was up to around 12%, today it’s around .25%, yes, that’s  right ¼ of 1%! Have you noticed that virtually all the banks have about the same rate for everything?   That’s called ‘price fixing’ which, in effect has all the banks acting as one, which is a monopoly. Both price fixing and monopolies are supposed to be illegal! To support the price fixing argument, take a look at mortgage rates; in the 1980’s they were as high as 18% for a 30-year mortgage, today they’re in the 4’s. Why have they dropped so precipitously? Because there are institutions other than banks that make home loans, so there is honest competitiveness.  I can guarantee you that if banks were the only ones making home loans, those rates would be somewhere around 12% today.

But there is a reason that banks need to rip us off, they have some fairly high compensation packages to satisfy. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America made $13,722,849 last year. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO, James Dimon made a hefty $28,000,000 in 2016. Wells Fargo CEO, Timothy Sloan made a paltry $12,830,000 last year, but Wells had to pay John Stumpf, their former CEO, who left amid the ‘fake account’ debacle, $130,000,000 in severance pay. Boy, I guess they taught him a lesson!

So the next time you see a bank advertisement on TV or see one of those ‘warm and fuzzy’ posters in your branch, just remember that they are just trying to find another way to rip you off.

Anybody want to help me rob a bank?  I would be honored to be in the Butch Cassidy Bank Robbery Museum.

 

THE LUCK O’ THE IRISH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Are you sober yet?  If you’re like millions of Americans you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last Friday by consuming some spirits in honor of the occasion.  Some of us are genuinely of Irish extraction but on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish.  Simply donning a green hat or sporting shamrock underwear gives the wearer some implicit permission to get toilet-hugging drunk.  There actually are a lot of Americans with Irish bloodlines – 37 million to be exact.  That’s 12% of the population, ranking just behind Germany in most frequently reported ancestry.  Heck, we have eight times the number of Irish than Ireland itself!   Which is probably as good an explanation as any as to why the holiday is so much more popular here than in Ireland.  Twenty years ago my husband’s cousin from Scotland came to San Francisco on business and we met him for dinner near our workplaces.  Unfortunately, the only night he had available was St. Patrick’s Day and to further the problem, we worked right around the corner from Harrington’s Bar and Grill.   We met at a nearby restaurant that required our cousin to walk from his hotel right by Harrington’s front door.  Or as close to the front door as he could get.  There are a lot of Irish in San Francisco and they seemingly all gather at Harrington’s each year to celebrate the patron saint.  When he finally navigated his way to the restaurant he was wild-eyed and I think just the tiniest bit shell-shocked.  He stammered, “What is with you Americans and St. Patrick’s Day?”  Well, it turns out, we practically invented the holiday.

 

 

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast of St. Patrick on March 17.  But the first parade held in honor of St. Patrick’s Day took place in the United States.  On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.  The parade, along with their native music, helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots and fellow countrymen.  Over the next three decades numerous groups formed to celebrate Irish heritage, each sponsoring a parade on St. Patrick’s Day.  By the mid-1800s the groups combined forces into what is now known as the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the largest in the country and the oldest civilian-sponsored parade in the world.

 

Of course, all that marching is exhausting so finding a good pub to quench one’s thirst became part of the day’s tradition.  Some people take pride in finding good Irish pubs wherever they go, regardless of the time of year.  In fact, although I won’t mention names, someone I’m related to that also writes for this blog fashions himself a connoisseur of Irish drinking establishments.  He is the only person I know who could trek all the way to Machu Picchu and find an authentic Irish pub in which to have a Guinness.  But he is far from alone.  What is this obsession so many have with the Irish?  I’ve read more than one article claiming the Irish are the most beloved ethnic group in the world.  Of course, part of that affection is tied to the “happy drunk” reputation, but in fact it goes further than that.  The Irish are deemed to be some of the most sentimental souls on Earth.  One need only read the famous Irish poets to understand the truth of that.  The Irish are also known world-wide for their sense of humor and dry wit.  Oscar Wilde, the noted Irish writer, filled our world with his bon mots.  One of my favorites is:  “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious”. George Carlin was perhaps one of the funniest comedians ever with his wry observations of everyday life and Melissa McCarthy is a talented entertainer (come on, that bathroom scene in Bridesmaids is a classic!).  The Irish also have the ability to write lyrically and capture an audience, despite sometimes playing fast and loose with the facts.  One of my favorite sayings, told to me by an Irish friend who was wound-up in the middle of a fantastical yarn, is “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.  My brother and I have at times adopted that as our motto.

 

There’s also the famous saying “Luck of the Irish”, although I have discovered that the phrase started as a derisive jab at the Irish immigrants who came to America in the late 1800’s.  It originated in the gold and silver mines to describe the Irish who found their “pot of gold” and became rich and successful.  The Irish were never given full credit for their accomplishments.  Instead it was widely believed that the “Irish fools” had gained fortune only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains and hard work.  Our only full-blooded Irish ancestor, Julia Stack Billiou, came to America during this period but as you might recall from my last post, she was not lucky in any sense of the word, having been shot by her Chinese cook.  Nevertheless, her immigration gives our family claim to Irish heritage and provides cover for our love of good writing, a stout beer, and a strong Irish Coffee.  I call that lucky indeed!

 

 

 

Stars in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

As I was sitting out in the desert this past week, well I was not actually sitting in the desert, I was sitting at our Marriott Desert Springs timeshare, anyway, I recalled the first time I ventured out this way. It was in the early 70s and brother Jack had just started working as the restaurant manager at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert. Although I lived in Orange County, it was a particularly cold January and dark clouds hung in the sky as I traveled southeast on Interstate 10 to ‘the desert’. As I entered the Coachella Valley I could see that Mt. San Jacinto and the rest of the Santa Rosa Mountain Range was holding back those dark clouds so there was not a cloud over the entire valley. It was not only my first time in the desert, but it was the first time I could drive for an hour and a half from my home and find a totally differ ecosystem.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the desert; my impression of deserts had come mostly from movies where people were crawling on the sand dying of thirst, seeing mirages of palm trees surrounding a watering hole or of camels trekking across the wind-blown sand with nothing in sight as their destination but more wind-blown sand. This was not like either of those visions, Palm Springs was ‘Home to the Stars’

I learned that there were many famous people who had a second home in the desert, such as Bing Crosby (You can stay in his house today for $3,000 a night!), Frank Sinatra, with a piano-shaped swimming pool, Dean Martin, whose pool was filled with martinis (Just kidding . . . maybe), Sonny Bono (excuse me, Mayor Bono), Gene Autry, Liberace and many, many more. I subsequently found out why the stars back in the day made the desert their go-to get away place.

‘Interesting fact #1’: Most actors had a clause in their contracts, called the ‘2 hour rule’ where they could not be more than two hours away from the studio. Palm Springs was just under a two-hour drive, but a whole world away, so that’s where they headed.

But I digress; those aren’t even the stars with which I was first impressed. During that first trip to the desert, I certainly noticed that the weather was warmer, but the real ‘a ha’ moment for me came that evening, when I was sitting out on the deck of an Ironwood Country Club condo feeling a warm desert breeze, which hardly moved the umbrella in my mai tai, and I looked up to see billions of stars that sparkled as brightly as I’d ever seen them. The Big Dipper was bigger and dippier, the Milky Way was less milky and Ursa Minor looked Major. I could see half the planets in our solar system with my naked eye (the rest of me was fully clothed).

Aside from the spectacular stars, my other most memorable recollection was, ‘There sure are a lot of palm trees around here!” I did notice that these palms were a little different from the King and Queen palms with which I was familiar, these were Date Palms and there were thousands of them.

‘Interesting fact 2’ – This desert produces 35 million pounds of dates annually, that represents 80% of the U.S. crop. You may not have been aware that there are male and female date palm trees and you also may not know that they typically have trouble reproducing, so date farmers must climb the male date palm tree, collect the pollen then climb a female tree and pollinate its flowers. Caution: don’t try this with your date!

I learned more interesting facts about the desert, to wit

     #3: The 50,000 swimming pools are the most pools per capita in the country.

     #4: The thousands of wind turbines make it the largest wind farm in America

     #5: Over 100 golf courses make it the ‘Golf Capital of the World’

     #6: In 1980 the Cabazon Band of the Mission Indians opened the first casino in the U.S. on an Indian reservation; it is now called Fantasy Springs Casino Resort & Spa. I’m proud to say that my contributions (involuntary) have helped make it what it is today!!

For me the desert is truly an oasis, tons of beautiful and challenging golf courses within a few minute’s drive, great bars and restaurants, the Marriott Villas are a great facility and the weather rarely disappoints.

There was a bonus on this trip; I was introduced to some different stars – tennis stars. We attended the BNP Paribas Open tournament, which draws the top players in the world to the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden. I had seen this facility from afar many times while driving through Indian Wells, but never been in it until now. It is ranked as one of the finest, if not the finest tennis facility in the world.  Watching Djokovic and Federer win their matches on a beautiful desert evening was something very special.

The stars in the desert just keep sparkling.

 

THE FLOOZIE, THE FELON AND FAKE NEWS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week I was researching the history of Pulga, a small town in Northern California, for some copy I’m writing for their website.  As it happens, this town is very close to Willows, where our dad’s family settled in 1829.  Our dad was born and raised there and the land is still owned and ranched by members of our extended family.  When I wrote our family history six years ago I discovered that we had something of a colorful past – our great-great grandmother, Julia Billiou, was murdered while sitting at her dining table.  That’s not something you find on Ancestry every day.

When I was writing our history I was lucky enough to connect with a third cousin (I think twice removed but I can never keep that stuff straight) who had a treasure trove of information about Julia and her husband, Joseph Billiou, including copies of the newspaper accounts of her murder.  The local papers in Oroville and Chico reported that the Billiou’s 16 year-old Chinese cook, Hong Di, burst out of the kitchen on the night of April 7, 1887 and in a drunken rage, shot the ranch foreman, William Weaver, in the shoulder.  He then shot Julia as she rose from the table, striking her directly in the heart and killing her instantly.  Our great-grandmother, Annie, was shot at three times, but by that point Hong’s aim was a bit off and he missed her each time.  Hong ran from the ranch, hiding in the brushes near the local creek for three days until he was caught and brought to trial.  The jury found him guilty, but instead of the normal death sentence for a murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

It would be a vast understatement to say that the verdict did not go down well with the local townspeople.  Before the judge and jury had even left the courtroom there was shouting from the gallery calling for Hong’s lynching.  The mayor called out the posse to guard the jail that night but a raucous band of 200 vigilantes stormed the facility.  They found the cell in the basement where Hong was detained and demanded a full confession.  This confession is what was reported in the local papers – that he’d imbibed in too much whiskey and that he didn’t mean to kill Julia as she had been kind to him.  Nevertheless, the vigilantes dragged him down the street to the train turnstile and hung him.  According to the papers, there was great celebration that night over the “justice” that was carried out.  None of the vigilantes were ever arrested for their actions.

Joseph Billiou – jerk or jilted?

Fast forward to last week when I was doing research on Pulga.  I decided as long as I was studying the local area I’d Google Julia’s murder to see if there was anything I’d missed.  It turned out to be a lesson in “be careful what you wish for” because there was new information and it did not reflect well her.  A recently published book about lynching in California has a full page devoted to Julia’s murder and Hong’s hanging. The author wrote that both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee published the FULL account of Hong’s confession while the local papers chose not to run the full story because it “impinged on the good character of one of the town’s most beloved citizens”.  To say the least. It turns out that a couple of months prior to the murder, while Mr. Billiou was in San Francisco on business, Hong stumbled upon Julia and Mr. Weaver in a “compromising position” up in the hay loft when Joseph was out of town.  Mr. Weaver threatened Hong with death if he told Mr. Billiou about the affair when he returned to the ranch.  Hong’s full confession also stated that his real target was Weaver and that he had great affection for Julia because she taught him to read and write English.  So in that spring of 1887 I think it’s safe to say that tensions were running a little high in the household.  Julia was cheating on her husband, the ranch foreman was fooling around with the boss’s wife, and the cook was scared of being killed at any moment.

These new revelations have me taking a second look at Julia.  Her track record for fidelity wasn’t so great to begin with.  Shortly after she arrived in Willows from Ireland she was engaged to Joseph’s brother, Michael.  When Joseph arrived in California to join Michael, Julia broke off the engagement and married Joseph.   That had to make for an awkward Thanksgiving.  Then at age 50 – which was like 100 in 1887 – she has a fling with the ranch foreman.  Maybe Joseph was a real jerk and she could only find true love with Mr. Weaver.  She took her secrets to the grave, not even leaving a photograph of herself behind, so she’ll forever remain an enigma.

All I know is that I will never again look at all those prim and proper women in my family tree in the same way.

 

There’s No Business Like $how Busine$$

by Bob Sparrow

Indeed, there is no business like show business when it comes to spending time, energy and money patting themself on the back   We have now just concluded what I call the ‘Actors’ Aggrandizement Season’; there’s been the Golden Globe Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and new to the party is the Made in Hollywood Honor Awards, because apparently Hollywood felt we were one awards show short of genuinely honoring actors and actresses. And now finally (I think!) we’ve endured the just-concluded Oscars – excuse me, the Academy Awards ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where winning an Oscar means . . . “I can ask for more money for my next movie”.

Watchers of the Oscars were subjected, ad nauseam, to the emotional thank yous from the beautiful people, to their agent, their psychiatrist, their current spouse and of course, us, the fans who they believe, wish we were them. We heard how wonderful the acting ‘craft’ is and of course we heard not what they were wearing, but who! Really?! Most of all, these thespians wanted to make sure they used their celluloid platform to express their banal opinions on domestic and world affairs – forget that most of them couldn’t find Syria on a map if they were adopting a baby in Damascus, much less understand the intricacies of our foreign and domestic policies. Yet, they have opinions and they are free to express them – unfortunately they all have the very same opinions. Where’s the diversity they so cherish?

Aside from similar opinions, one of the other things they have in common is a large, fragile ego. Do you remember when they used to open ‘The Envelope’ (which now cost $200 each!  Yes, just the envelope!) and say, “And the winner is . . .”? They don’t say that anymore, because saying ‘winner’ would imply that there are ‘losers’, so the presenters were asked a few years ago to change the phrase to say, “And the award goes to . . .”.  Now that is standard phraseology for ALL the award shows.

Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu Beach, Kauai

And under the heading of ‘all participants should get a trophy’, gift bags or ‘swag bags’ as those on the inside call them, are given to all of the nominees in the actor, actress and director categories. The bags include such things as a 5-night stay on the island of Kauai, a full wardrobe of women’s clothes from Belldini, a stay at an Italian hotel overlooking Lake Como, and while they’re in Italy they have a three-night stay at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria which overlooks Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, the cost of a suite there is $1,800 a night. They’ll get another week at an exclusive spa, a Casper mattress for each nominee AND THEIR DOG, and many, many more items. The value of the swag bags last year was approximately $230,000 . . . that’s not for all the bags, that’s EACH! There is no business like show business!  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that $3.4 million could go to a better cause than 15 wealthy movie people.

Oh, I almost forgot, under the category of ‘any publicity is good publicity’, the Razzies, or more formally, The Golden Raspberry Awards, were handed out last week recognizing the worst picture and actors of the year. I didn’t watched them, but I wonder if they said, “and the loser is . . .” Nah!

My sense is that actors and actresses are generally not people that I would want to spend a lot of time with or have my children emulate. Their morals are questionable, they spend money foolishly, certainly too much on houses, cars, psychiatric help, and ex-spouses and wherever they are, it is always all about them. Going on location to shoot a movie always takes precedent over going to their kid’s soccer game. Generalizations I know, some do get it, but most don’t. Contrast these statements from two famous actors:

When is Robert Redford really acting?

Robert Redford said of the recent passing of Mary Tyler Moore, “The courage she displayed in the movie Ordinary People, taking on a role darker than anything she had ever done was brave and enormously powerful”. Really?? OK, I liked the character The Sundance Kid and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mary Tyler Moore in her own show as well as The Dick Van Dyke Show and was saddened to hear of her recent passing, but I felt that Redford must have been acting when he said that, or does he really believe that playing a character in a movie is “brave and enormously powerful”?

Contrast that with what Denzel Washington said when he was sitting around the table with a group of fellow movie people and was asked how tough it was to make his latest movie, Fences. He said, “Making a movie isn’t tough, sending your kid to Iraq is tough! Making a movie is a luxury; it’s just a movie!”  Thank you!

Hidden Figures

As unimpressed as I seem with the acting profession, I have watched most of the aforementioned award shows. Why? The truth is, I love movies, I love a great story well told. I don’t know the political leanings of the three women who were in Hidden Figures, nor do I care, but the movie, told a great, true story of three incredibly smart and courageous women who succeeded in spite of having to overcome significant obstacles (There, Mr. Redford is bravery and courage . . . in real life). You don’t have to like Mel Gibson to recognize his performance as William Wallace in Braveheart, another great story based on historical events.

Good actors make good movies, and I love them.

But they’re just movies.