Don’t Call It ‘An Old Folks Home’ (Continued)

(Continued from April 3rd post)

by Bob Sparrow

    The show begins.  The entertainment was a husband-wife team in their 50s who had a Captain and Tennille sort of vibe, except he played the keyboard more like a deckhand than a captain and she, pardon the mixed metaphor, couldn’t carry Toni Tennille’s jock strap in a wet paper bag.  I have no idea what that means.  Their repertoire included mostly Snoop Dog and Lady Gaga stuff.  Oops, sorry, that was the music I had running through my iPod during their performance.  Just kidding, I don’t have any Snoop Dog.  Actually they weren’t bad, as they succeeded in keeping the audience awake, no small task, and on numerous occasions even had them ‘gumming’ the words to some old familiar songs.

      Several times during the course of their performance, mom would turn to ‘New Jack’ and start talking about various subjects, not in hush tones, but as if she had learned to whisper in a saw mill.  A woman sitting directly behind us, wanted of all things, to listen to the entertainment and not mom’s ‘whisperings’ of sweet nothings into New Jack’s hearing aid. After several room-filling, head-turning ‘shhhhes’, the woman realized that mom was either ignoring her or hard of hearing, or both, so tapped me on the shoulder and nodded over to mom, using the now-familiar, non-verbal, face-contorting, silent language of seniors, that screamed, “Can’t you shut that old stove up?”  I shrugged and tried to give a non-verbal look that said, ‘Welcome to my world.’

      The entertainment was really just the opening act for the main event – the crowning of the Merrill Gardens Valentines King and Queen.  The room quieted as the hostess from ‘god’s waiting room’ came before the group to announce this year’s king and queen.   In a very officious way she explained that the king and queen were voted on by the residents and that the results had been sealed since yesterday noon, probably in a prunes jar.  She paused dramatically and explained that this year’s voting had a little twist – she would explain later.  She announced the names of the king and queen.  The new queen hurried to the front to be crowned and explained that the king was in the restroom at the moment and would be out when he was good and ready.  The hostess then explained that the voting was so close this year that they decided to crown a runner-up king and queen, which was unprecedented.  She then called out, “Jack and Barbara” – New Jack and mom!  I leaned over and congratulated mom and whispered to her that as runner-up queen, should the 1st queen, for whatever reason, be unable to perform her queenly duties, that she would become queen!

      I must admit that soon after I heard my mom’s named announced I had to restrain myself from jumping up and running around the room shrieking, “I’m a Prince, I’m a Prince”. Or would I be a duke?  Whatever, I was inwardly thrilled with this brush with royalty.  My enthusiasm dimmed however as I realized that while my sister would become a royal princess, my older brother would be the first in line of succession and as the middle child, I’d be squeezed out again.  After this realization, to be completely honest, I became secretly happy that my mom was only runner-up and muttered under my breath, “Long live the queen.”

      After the show, mom, New Jack and I retired to mom’s room.  I knew my brother and sister were going to be asking a lot of questions about New Jack, so I needed to get some information out of this guy.  With the help of some light water-boarding and a flood light, the grilling began.  I learned that he was originally from West Virginia, but he seemed to have all his teeth and as far as I could tell did not play the banjo.  He was a dentist for 30 years before moving to San Diego and getting into real estate where he apparently found that he could make more money with his hands in people’s pocket than he could with his hands in their mouths.  He came to Sonoma because his only child, a daughter, lives there.  The daughter has three grown children, the most interesting of which is a son who lives in Taiwan and works for the US government.  New Jack thinks he’s a CIA spy of some kind; I think he’s a ping-pong table salesman.  All and all, at the end of the interrogation, he seemed worthy of my mom’s attention.

      This budding romance is the talk of Merrill Gardens, but will it last?  We don’t know whether to expect a call from ‘New Jack’ asking for our mother’s arthritic hand in marriage or a call from mom saying that the ‘Chicken Lady’ is now saving his seat.  Time will tell.

 Post Script: I have poked some fun at the elderly here, but I poke fun at everyone and I just didn’t want to discriminate.  Merrill Gardens does an excellent job of caring for their residents.





Please excuse me if this is brief; it’s really hard to type when you’re in traction.

Just kidding. Some of you thought that was a real possibility, though, didn’t you? But I am home, safe and sound. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from skiing after 23 years away from it. But just like me, some things were the same and some were radically different. Here are a few of my observations:

Observation #1: The Weather Channel is never to be trusted.

Last week they said it was going to be bright and sunny for our trip. Just what I wanted – spring skiing! So imagine my surprise when on the first morning we woke up to snow. I went to the Weather Channel app and drilled down to their 15 minute forecasts. They said the snow would stop by 10:15. It didn’t.

Observation #2: Ticket pricing makes no sense.

I was surprised to learn that the age for a “senior” ticket is 65. This struck me as strange. Last week I went to the movies and was able to buy a “senior” ticket and the sum total of my physical exertion was to amble down a concourse, balancing a Pepsi and popcorn, and sit in a cushioned seat for two hours. Here, they strap two fiberglass boards to my feet, haul me up to 9,000 feet, expect me to slide down on snow and ice, and somehow I’m just an “adult”. This whole “senior” ticket thing is going to require some investigation.

Observation #3: Technology is a beautiful thing.

And specifically, I’m talking about the improvement in fabric and equipment. I have lots of memories of skiing while freezing. I used to dress in so many layers that I looked like a shoplifter. And I still froze. No more. I wore a thin ski t-shirt under my parka and I was toasty, even in snow and 20 mph winds.

Skis are better too. They used to be the height of my arm raised over my head. Now, the skis barely come up to my chin. I like anything that gives me more control and these new skis are like my own little minion, awaiting my command. Even the tickets are digital. They look like a hotel room key, and when placed in your pocket, allow you to ski right through the lift portals. The portals look something like the security scanners you go through at the airport only without the annoying TSA agents frisking you and stealing your stuff.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is ski boots. Although they were comfortable and warm, they gave me all the grace and agility of Frankenstein. It was not lost on me that I could survive the skiing, only to break my arm doing a face plant coming down the steps from the bathroom.

Observation #4: The 60’s are alive and well in skiing.

One of the major changes to skiing in these 20 plus years is the advent of the snow boarder. Most of these kids (and they are almost ALL kids) look like real slackers. I sized a few of them up on our first day. They probably thought I was staring at their great outfits. I wasn’t. I was assessing each one of them as potential human missiles that would later be careening down the hill aimed right at me. But on some of our gondola rides we met a few of them and almost all were college graduates, just “chilling” for a while before they got a real job. For those of us who came of age in the ‘60’s this sounded awfully familiar.

The other similarity to the ‘60’s was the spirit of fraternity and honesty among skiers. When we stopped to get lunch on the first day I suggested that we rent a locker to store our skis while we ate. My husband looked at me like I had lost my mind (this happens off the ski slopes as well). We simply leaned them against the railing and left them there, for the entire world to see – and steal. We also left our parkas, gloves and goggles on a table while we went to another room to get lunch. And when we came back, they were still there. Maybe I’ve lived in major cities for too long, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is still a place where people don’t take things that don’t belong to them. That said, I’m not sure I’d leave my iPad unattended.

Observation #5: It pays to set reasonable expectations.

I used to be a pretty good skier. But after such a long absence I set new expectations. Very LOW expectations. The last run I skied all those years ago was at Mammoth, and it is called Stump Alley. I’ve always assumed its name refers to the trees, not the appendages of humans who have fallen. It’s a fairly steep intermediate run and I pretty much knew that my days of skiing “Stump” were over. I was perfectly content to start – and stay – on the bunny slopes. You know, the ones with six year olds whizzing past and people bent over like they are in a perpetual state of looking for their car keys.

But here’s the thing: just as everyone assured me, skiing is like riding a bike. By the second run of the day I had my “legs”. That familiar pole plant-weight shift feeling came back. It was awesome. The rest of the trip was one joyous run after another.

There’s also a big mental benefit to skiing; it requires your complete attention. Usually I’m a prodigious day dreamer. I contemplate a million things on the golf course – the fabric for the family room chairs, what to fix for dinner, why that person said she had a 5 when I know she had a 6. But a lapse in focus while skiing can have disastrous results. So for the entire time I was skiing I didn’t think, or worry, about anything except keeping my knees bent and my weight on the downhill ski. As my husband said “Skiing is good for the soul.”

Observation #6: There’s a missed opportunity here.

Okay, it wasn’t all perfect. I did fall once. I put my weight too far back when I came to a stop and fell backwards on my butt. Nothing spectacular, in fact it was one of those stupid things you do and then look around in the fervent hope that no one saw you. But that wasn’t the worst part. I could not get up. After several humiliating tries I finally had to take my skis off. The only way I could stand up was to roll over and claw my way to an erect position, looking like a polar bear digging for roots. So here’s my idea: Life Alert for the ski slopes. One little squeeze of a button and some cute ski patrol guy would come along and help you up. I think I’m on to something.

So, that was my trip. I’ve spent some moments being mad at myself for having missed all this fun for so many years. I don’t know why we tend to be afraid of active sports as we get older. I suspect it is the fear of getting hurt. But living life being afraid just isn’t a very satisfying way to live. So from now on I will apply my re-conquest of skiing to other things in my life that I have been afraid to try. Except hang gliding. I’m not completely stupid.

Oh yeah – guess which run I skied on the second day? Stump Alley! Here’s a picture of me at the bottom of it. At 61 I skied the same run that I did at 38. Next time I’m not waiting 23 years between runs.

Do Not Go Gently…Part 1

by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

A year ago, when my husband turned 70, he decided that he wanted to take up skiing again. Our last family ski trip was in 1989 and while he has occasionally waxed sentimental about skiing, I never took him seriously. Golf, arthritis and unadulterated fear has kept me from any illusions about skiing again. But like a lot of Baby Boomers, my husband was reflective on his birthday and decided that he had no desire to just slide into old age. He said he wanted to experience the excitement of skiing and if he got hurt, well, so be it. Of course, all I could imagine was him with his casted foot propped up and me fetching things for him every time he rang a damn bell.

But I secretly admired his gumption so I humored him through the “Ski” magazine subscription, then the purchase of ski clothing, and finally, his first ski trip. I could not go with him as I was in physcial therapy for my back but I casually mentioned that I’d go with him this year (note to self: don’t let your mouth write checks that your body has to cash). But I figured that one trip from Scottsdale into the cold climes of the Sierra would convince him his dream was folly. No such luck. He has become a ski nut.

The early part of this winter brought no snow to the Sierras. I was not disappointed. But now precipitation reigns and my casual comment has come back to haunt me; I’ve agreed to go skiing. I look at it this way – I’m in decent shape, I still have some spirit of adventure, and, let’s face it, I’m not ready to admit that I can’t do something anymore. My husband was so excited at the prospect of our trip that for his birthday he took me to Ski Pro to buy me a parka. And since then his every trip there has netted me some little “gift”: gloves, ski shirts, goggles, a ski mask, three pairs of socks, and after-ski boots. I did have to go with him when he insisted on buying me ski pants. I want to say at this point that trying on ski pants is the winter equivalent of testing out bathing suits. It completely goes against common sense for a middle-aged woman to try on clothes that make her look fatter. I’m not sure that even my Spanx are going to help me avoid the Michelin Man look.

My friends think I am completely nuts. They have brought out every story about every friend who has ever gotten hurt on a ski run. I’m getting such supportive comments as, “Is there a good hospital in Mammoth?”, and “Do you want to take my Hunger Games trilogy to read in the hospital?” My neighbor, Pat, who is very athletic, went skiing last week after a seven year hiatus. I knew she would offer me some positive perspective and encouragement. So the day after her return I anxiously asked her how it had gone. She looked at me with that middle-distance stare usually reserved for mental patients. “It was horrible”, she said. “I was frightened the whole time. I skied scared every day.” Her hands were still shaking. Great. This was not the reinforcement I was seeking. Maybe I AM nuts.

Today the car is loaded and we are ready to go. I did an extra 10 minutes on the elliptical machine this morning which I’m sure is going to make all the difference when I’m at 9,000 feet. Or not. I’ll let you know.

Getting Ready For The Road

by Bob Sparrow

First, thanks to son, Jeff for the new Header – a great graphic designer if you ever need one!

Next, even though we have a new name, we’re keeping our same ‘Morning News in Verse’ domain, as we didn’t want to ask all you loyal subscribers to re-subscribe to a new blog site. Hope you enjoy our observations.

“You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by” Teach Your Children Well, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young

So many of us in the sixties listened to the lyrics above and all we heard were the great harmonies. Why was that? I could put it this way, no one remembers much about the sixties because if they did, they weren’t there, but I don’t want to drag out that old hackneyed phrase . . . oops, sorry. Perhaps the real reason was that most lyrics at the time generally contained the same message: grow your hair, make love not war, feed your head and smoke dried banana peels. Today as I sit in my cannabis-free home with hair disappearing and dropping pills for cholesterol and gout, I’ve started to listen to the words of songs. The lyrics above got me wondering about that opening line and its reference to the ‘code’ by which those on the road must live.

I developed a particular interest in finding this code, if in fact there was one, because as a recent retiree, I had some time on my hands and was looking to ‘hit the road’ to chronicle ‘life’s little observations’. Contemplating these lyrics, I wondered, “What’s this code thing all about?” Would I be out on the road and commit a major road faux pas and be told to get off the road until I had a better grasp of the ‘code’? The lyric kept running through my head, “. . . must have a code . . .” I felt like I couldn’t back out of my driveway until I found and deciphered the ‘code’. I needed to figure this all out fairly soon or risk becoming an agoraphobic.

Thus I began my search for the code. I was hoping that it wasn’t some mythical or unwritten code – those are the toughest to find and virtually impossible to crack – so I searched under the assumption that there was indeed something, somewhere used by ‘you who are on the road’ when traveling to guide you along your way. Search as I may, I found nothing; even Google was uncharacteristically quiet on the subject and offered no response to a ‘code of the road to live by’. I wondered, for the first time, if Google really did know everything.

I decided I needed to look into the origin of the lyrics.

The song first appeared in the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album Déjà Vu, released in 1970. Stephen Stills wrote the music and Graham Nash wrote the lyrics that apparently dealt with the relationship with his father, who had spent time in prison. Prison? It was beginning to sound like something the country-western folks would have loved to get their hands on. In my research I found an interesting sidebar; Jerry Garcia agreed to play the steel pedal guitar on this song in exchange for harmony lessons for his band, The Grateful Dead. Based on the Dead’s subsequent album I’m guessing that C,S,N&Y never fulfilled their part of the exchange. My search, while interesting, gave me no clue as to the code. However, given the cast of characters, I concluded that hallucinogenic substances were probably involved and that the ‘code’ was most probably a figment of some very fertile imaginations. Clueless and codeless I hit the road.


Headlines:  We’re going to need a bigger jar of Purell.

They’ve discovered that the meat in our schools has “pink slime”,

And slimy ex-governor “Blago” is finally in jail for his crimes.

But the biggest “yuck” of all goes to Afghan prez Karzai,

“Untrustworthy slime ball” is too good for this guy.

Money:  March:  the lowest productivity month of the year.

The market is going up; mortgage rates are on the rise,

But all we care about is our office pool size.

Everyone is studying brackets, sizing up who’s #1,

It’s finally March Madness, which mean no work is being done.

Sports:  And to continue the theme…

Sure, Peyton is making all the stops, looking for a team,

And Tiger’s nursing his Achilles to keep alive his Master’s dream.

But it’s Kentucky who has to worry and hope that things don’t go awry,

For now they have to overcome the dreaded “jinx” from S.I.

Life:  It’s All Over Except the Shouting

That juggernaut, “American Idol”, has begun its 11th season,

And maybe we’re just cranky but it’s a bit “off” for some reason.

Some contestants are okay, a couple sing like they’re from Heaven,

But why do most decide to turn one note into seven?

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Headlines:  We knew those “duck and cover” drills would pay off.

As if we didn’t have enough on our minds these days,

Solar storms are wreaking havoc in new and critical ways.

Navigation systems may go down, power grids may take a hit,

Which means we may hear the GPS lady get confused and say “Oh, Shit!”

Money:  We’re going to work on that “beer belly” girdle.

Forbes is out this week with their annual billionaire list,

Gates, Slim, Buffet…you all get the gist.

But the newest club member invented the shapewear, Spanx,

Who knew that squeezing fat would result in billions in the bank?

Sports:  The Stanford Band should be part of the deal.

Irsay says “it’s not about the money” but we all know it is,

He’s got his eye on Andrew Luck, the Stanford QB whiz.

But Peyton Manning is a class act, who has done the Colts fans proud,

We wish all football players were so articulately endowed.

Life:  One smart cookie.

The Girl Scouts of America were founded 100 years ago,

By a quirky, childless woman by the name of Juliette Low.

Hilary Clinton and Barbara Walters are among those who did their stints,

But the greatest Girl Scout triumph? Those addicting, darn Thin Mints!

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Headlines:  Don’t worry, Joe, we’re all nodding off.

Well, we’re getting closer to casting the Republican primary vote,

Romney or Santorum? One’s the victor, one’s the goat.

As for Obama, he is confident, even with Biden as his Veep,

His only worry will be during speeches – hoping Joe doesn’t fall asleep.

Money:  When in doubt, blame the Baby Boomers.

The Dow is doing well; housing seems to be rebounding,

But now three experts give dire predictions which are a bit confounding.

Mostly our troubles come from retiring Baby Boomers and the global debt,

So just when we thought we could relax, we learn our gains will be offset.

Sports:  The Lakers play the Heat on Sunday – watch the rematch.

Kobe Bryant was on fire during the All-Star game,

Breaking Jordan’s scoring record, which brought him much acclaim.

But unfortunately Kobe’s nose was broken by a player from the Heat,

Which saved Vanessa from having to do it, for him being such a cheat.

Life:  Joan Rivers was jealous of Billy’s tuck and roll.

The Oscars were predictable, even with Crystal manning the show,

The question on our minds was who had more nips – him or JLo?

Our favorite was Chris Rock, who really was quite funny,

Skewering actors for “working hard” and making so much money.

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Headlines:  Is that a bulge in your purse or are you happy to see me?

The latest trend, it seems, is women owning guns,

They’re buying up firearms and ammo by the tons.

Some are shooting for the pleasure and some for their protection,

And some want to meet a man and find their “firing” connection.

 Money:  How do you say “strike” in Mandarin?

Wal-Mart is acquiring a Chinese shopping giant,

Hoping that their shoppers will become low-price reliant.

Meanwhile Apple has its hand full with its Foxconn dive,

No doubt that these two firms will spawn a Chinese union drive.

Sports:  Be afraid, be very afraid.

Jeremy Lin is denouncing the latest rumor hype,

Says he’s not dating Kim Kardashian, that she’s just not his type.

He may just be a bit naïve, laying his emotions out so bare,

‘Cause he’s a sports star in the spotlight – and she is so there.

Life:  A cautionary tale.

Whitney Houston “went home” in an elaborate celebration,

With singing and testimonies that were three hours in duration.

At the same time SNL announced Lindsay Lohan soon will host,

We’re hoping she’ll sober up and take advice from Whitney’s ghost.

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Headlines:   There goes our trip to Wally World.

The U.S. closed its Syrian embassy, slapped new sanctions on Iran,

Meanwhile in dealing with these nuts, Hilary’s doing the best she can.

But with 20 percent of our oil coming through the Hormuz  Straights,

We’re thinking our summer driving tour is going to have to wait.

 Money:  Never work with kids or animals…or soccer players.

Another Super Bowl has come and gone and we just watched the ads,

They tell us everything we need to know about the current fads.

Based on this year’s crop we like babies, dogs and Eastwood,

But in the end there’s no disputing David Beckham looked quite good!

Sports:    Most guys would probably want what Tom is holding.

THE game was pretty exciting, this was no Super Bore,

It was good until the end, and left us wanting more.

Eli was the QB who was exciting and could impel,

But Brady’s the one who gets to go home to Gisele.

Life:   My word, I think my Corgis can dance better.

Madonna had her day and images of her will linger,

But it wasn’t really cool that M.I.A. gave us the finger.

We’re guessing neither of these artists will be asked to have high tea,

Or to perform  for Queen Elizabeth at her Diamond Jubilee.


Headlines:  This ballot is so easy – it’s already got Mitt’s name filled in!

Well, if it’s Tuesday surely somewhere it  must be Primary Day

And sure enough, Floridians will finally have their say.

Frankly we don’t care how any of the candidates rate,

We are just thankful that this week there won’t be any more debates.

Money:  The return of an American icon.  But is he deductible?

Honda Motors has announced it’s bringing back one of our faves,

Ferris Bueller will appear in a Super Bowl ad, to raves.

But Ferris might discover his parents’ welcome is destructible,

Because the IRS ruled this week that adult kids are not deductible.

Sports:  Strung out.

We went to bed quite early, set the alarm so we would wake,

We wanted to see Nadal vs. Djokovic, every serve and every break.

But it turned into a marathon, neither one would be dispatched,

We could have slept for three more hours and still seen half the match.

Life:  Talk about skeletons in the closet!

We read that Shirley MacLaine will join the “Downton Abby”cast,

We’re wondering if she’ll play someone that she’s been in the past?

And Demi Moore this week overdosed on aerosol from “Whip It”,

If that’s the best that she could do, maybe she should skip it.