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.

MY HOBBY IS … SLEEPING?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I have been knitting since I was 14 years old.  It is a passion that has held me in good stead through my youthful dating years (more sweaters knit for undeserving boyfriends than I can count), marriage, divorce, singledom again, and re-marriage.  I have turned to knitting in good times and bad and the craft has not only provided me warmth and some Zen-like moments, but a whole host of friends with like-minded interests.  Only someone who also has a passion can understand the joy of immersing yourself in a hobby and learning everything you can about it.  I came to that realization a few years ago when I hosted a dinner party with people who also had a passion for something.  One guest was having a long conversation with a man about her horse show experiences when she suddenly said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.  I’m sure I’m boring you to death with this stuff.”  To which he replied, “No, I get it.  I love racing cars.  So while I don’t understand the horse show particulars, I can relate to anyone who has a passion.”  I’ve never forgotten that moment.  It was when I realized that it was less important what my hobby was than the fact that I had one, even if some people think of it as a “grandma” sport.

As I gave more thought to hobbies I decided it might be interesting to see how other people choose to spend their time – what tickles the imagination or gets people wound up.  I found the latest Harris Poll on the subject and the answer is so discouraging that I wish I could “un-know” it.  First of all, there is a wide definition of what constitutes a hobby.  For example, the number one hobby in the United States is reading.  Okay, I get that reading could be a hobby, especially if you are researching or have a particular interest in a subject matter.  But “reading” also included romance novels and magazines which, frankly, sound more like something one would do in the bathtub or while waiting for the clothes to come out of the dryer.  But at least “reading” has some virtue to it which was comforting because the second most popular hobby is “watching television”.  Wow.  Under that definition everyone who sits on a Barco lounger eating Doritos and drinking Miller Lite is taking part in their hobby.  I know people who have gotten divorced over one spouse spending too much time with their “hobby” during football season.

Gardening and fishing are also very popular, depending on the region of the country you live in, but “Computer” beat them both out.  I’d like to think that some people listed that as a pastime because they are learning about programming or graphic design.  I think the reality is that people are watching cat videos on You Tube or playing endless games of Candy Crush.  “Shopping” cracked the Top 15 in terms of hobbies but that also seems like cheating to me.  I think shopping falls into two categories:  1) things that are necessary like work clothes and groceries or 2) stuff we don’t need but buy because we’re bored/lured by a sale/haven’t hit the limit on the credit card yet.  Housework and sleeping were also on the list, which again, seem to be skirting the real definition of a hobby.  For many years my former company asked people to list their hobbies on the employment application and I can tell you that not once did anyone list “sleeping”, although we later found out the hard way that it was, in fact, their strong suit.

I’m glad that I have my knitting to sustain me.  I have a walk-in closet full of yarn and feel quite confident that in the event of a nuclear holocaust I will be able to remain in my home and entertain myself for weeks on end.  I have recently purchased a knitting machine which, despite how it sounds, is an entirely different craft and is keeping my feeble brain exercised in trying to master it.  Another reason I’m glad I knit is that I also golf.  As any golfer knows, the very act of swinging the club wreaks havoc on just about every body part.  So, as my knitter-golfer friends like to say, golfers who have no other passion are just one bad back – or rainy day – away from having nothing to do.  Maybe those guys on the PGA should learn how to knit.

WE PLAN, GOD LAUGHS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This blog was supposed to be about Santa Fe.  I had planned a trip there last weekend to attend a birthday bash for one of my closest friends.  I planned to eat a lot, drink too much and soak in the sites.  I planned to roast her with a birthday tribute and re-connect with old friends.  Those were my plans.  But on the Tuesday prior to the event the honoree’s 45 year-old daughter died of a pulmonary embolism. Suddenly, our plans changed.  Instead of flying off for a fun, celebratory weekend in Santa Fe, we were boarding a plane to Chicago to attend funeral services.  Oh, how quickly our lives can change.

As we reach “senior status” it becomes more common to experience loss.  In the last five years both my brother and I have lost our mother and our childhood best friend.  Numerous friends have lost spouses or are supporting them through life-changing illnesses.  Somehow we expect to encounter these events as we grow older.  But losing a 45 year-old, in the prime of her life, happily married and with a 12 year-old daughter just seems so wrong.  It is wrong.   And it is a good reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

That notion was hammered home to me many years ago when a friend lost her husband to cancer at an early age.  After his diagnosis she lamented, “I think about all the hours I stayed at the office doing busy work when I could have gone home.  I wish I had those hours back.”  Her sincere regret about her prioritization had a profound affect on me.  After that I never spent more time at work than I needed to.  I resisted the “how late did you work last night?” competition that seemed to pervade every workplace.  I had seen first-hand the downside of that game.  It was a good – if painful – lesson on making sure those around us know how important they are.  It’s why, as sappy as it sounds, I never leave the house without telling my husband that I love him and I end each day by telling Dash the Wonder Dog how much I appreciate all that he does for us.  Dogs don’t live nearly as long as they should.  But then again, neither do some very good people.

My friend’s life is forever changed and those who care about their family are also struggling to make some sense of it.  I think most people when faced with these horrible events take some stock.  It’s a good reminder that we can’t take anything for granted.  All of our checklists, day planners and to-do lists can be just wishful thinking.  And it’s a wake-up call (at least for me) on how we spend time.  It’s too easy to get sucked into surfing the internet on the iPad or watching dog videos.  It’s also worth remembering that not all things – or all people – are worth our time.  We need to make each day count, spent with people and activities than enrich, rather than detract.  For me the only small way that I can think of to pay tribute to a life lost too soon is to cherish every day I’m given and live it to the fullest.

Rest in peace, dear Staci D’Ancona Levy.

 

Heroes

Recently I was on a conference call at work, the subject of which was marketing to seniors; we were referred to an outline of a book by Dan Kennedy entitled, No BS Guide to Marketing to Lending Edge Boomers & Seniors: The Ultimate No Holds Barred Take No Prisoners Roadmap to the Money.  Quite a long title and I was to later learn that the only thing worth remembering is the ‘BS’.  As a senior (I’m not sure if I’m a ‘Leading Edge’ senior, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of what works in marketing to me and my peers), so I listened and read the outline with particular interest.

There is a section in the book that talks about our heroes and that people selling to us should be aware of who our heroes are and talk them up when possible or at least don’t degrade them during your communication with seniors.  I couldn’t wait to see the list.  When I saw the list, I was waiting for the punch line, this couldn’t be real!  Who was on the list of heroes you ask? John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Oprah and Meryl Streep.  These are people that we supposedly ‘identify’ with.  Really?!!!  Five very polarizing people – 2 very conservative male actors and 3 very liberal female entertainers.  I thought this list was totally contrived.  I identify with none of these people and they are certainly not on my list of heroes.    So I wondered whether I was out of step with my generation or the author was, so I did a little research on the author, Dan Kennedy.

I quickly learned that he felt very highly of himself as being a ‘leading edge’ Boomer.  In his book introduction he states, “I have, and in random rotation drive, three classic automobiles including a Rolls-Royce convertible previously owned by Dean Martin.  I also have a stable full of Standardbred race horses and two homes, blah, blah, blah”.  He goes on to liken himself to Paul Newman, who used to race automobiles as a hobby, while Dan harness races for fun.  He then says, “I am the gold standard for seniors, if you can figure out how to successfully sell to me and satisfy me as a customer, you can open the vault to all boomer and senior gold . . .”

I guess I should have been impressed, but I’m typically more impressed with people who don’t have to tell me how wonderful they are, but still I wondered where he got his list of heroes and was he out of step or was I?  So I sent an email blast to about 25 of my peers asking them who their heroes were and to send me at least one male and one female ‘hero’.  I said nothing else, I didn’t give them the list of five that Kennedy put forward, no coaching, no prodding, just give me your heroes.  The results are in and my initial reaction to Kennedy’s list was justified and my faith in our generation renewed.  Four key findings from my survey:

  • The most popular response was a parent or parents or grandparents
  • Many cited heroes that were just people they knew, ordinary people who did extraordinary things to make this world a better place in which to live.
  • Five world leaders were named: Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, George H W Bush, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill
  • Not a single actor, actress or entertainer was named!

Other ‘heroes’ named included: Jesus Christ, Condoleezza Rice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Pat Tillman, Carly Fiorina, Thomas Sowell, Dr. Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Sally Ride. 

Hero groups: Navy Seals, Mercury 7 astronauts, anyone in the armed forces

Thank you to those who participated in the survey!

I realize that my sampling was very small, but I’d bet Mr. Kennedy’s Rolls-Royce (then maybe I’d be a Leading Edge Senior) that if he actually did the survey, instead of providing his own BS that he wouldn’t find many entertainers as heroes for our generation.

Care to chime in?  We’d love to hear who your heroes are.

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

We bought a new mattress last week.  For those of you who have not ventured into the nightmare that is mattress shopping I have one piece of advice – DON”T.  We put off buying one as long as we could but my aching back required some relief.  Thus began the “mattresses shopping experience”.  I have to admit, a lot has changed since we bought our last mattress 17 years ago.  The Mattress Manufacturers Association suggests you buy a new one every 8-10 years.  So we were a little overdue.  We did buy one of those foam mattress toppers about eight years ago which over time has developed a decidedly large hump down the middle.  It looks like we’re trying to hide an elephant.  My husband has been perfectly comfortable with this situation but I think “the hump” was getting to him too.

So on a rainy Sunday afternoon we traipsed down to our local mattress store.  I did a bit of research ahead of time – I was not going to let some slick salesman bamboozle me into buying more mattress than I needed.  I was under the naïve impression that reading Consumer Reports would protect me from being the lamb going to slaughter.  I was wrong.  The first thing I learned is that there is a very wide variety of mattresses out there – coil, hybrid, foam, pillow top, gel, water, memory foam, and latex.  If you’re interested in buying a horsehair mattress for $100,000 that’s available too.  It’s a dizzying array and then to make matters worse, once you decide on the type of mattress you then have to zero on the “firmness”.  Ah…and there’s the rub, so to speak.  What is firm to one person is soft to the next.  What is firm for one brand is medium-firm for another.  We found ourselves flopping down on mattresses like flounder on a ship’s deck.  And this is probably the place to mention that lying on a bed with your spouse, trying to replicate your actual sleeping positions while a salesman looms over you, is quite awkward.  Only to be outdone when the salesman puts you on a mattress with a moveable foundation.  There we were, lying on the mattress with him at the end of the bed wielding the remote control like a mad scientist.  Our legs and feet and shoulders were moving all over the place.  Then he started the massage feature.  I hated it.  It had all the soothing qualities of those massage beds you used to find in cheap hotels where you inserted a quarter and the mattress jumped around for five minutes.  But I must say I loved the idea of being able to sit up while reading in bed.  And the salesman, assessing our age, also noted helpfully that if one of us was ever incapacitated the mechanics of the bed would help us get out and on our feet easier.  We could choose from dual mattresses with individual controls or one big mattress.  And that’s where we ran into problems.  How would we handle Dash?

Despite my early intentions that our dog would never sleep on the bed, Dash and my husband conspired against me.  Dash now has a full-size pillow right between us at night.  I have to admit, I love hearing his breathing and he is always cuddling so now I wouldn’t think of kicking him out.  My husband has gone so far as to say he’d kick me out before the dog.  It’s always nice to know your station in life.  But…back to the mattress.  The problem with dual control is that there is a huge split down the middle of the bed – right where Dash sleeps.  The one big mattress with one control is – in my opinion – just another way to fight with your spouse.  Since everything moves at once you have to be in perfect agreement about when to stop reading so you can lower the bed.  I don’t know about your house but in ours we seldom turn off the light at the same time.  So all I could envision were endless arguments about bed raising/lowering and we have enough trouble just agreeing on the thermostat setting.

After trying out so many beds we were as confused as when we walked in.  I discovered that testing mattresses is a lot like wine tasting – after a while you have a tough time distinguishing between them.  Finally, we were, in fact, bamboozled by the salesman’s pitch and purchased the Tempurpedic mattress that can sense our body temperature, understand our pressure points, and adapt to our weight (good luck with that, buddy!).  It was twice the price of my first new car.  They will be delivering it this week and all I can say is – I hope Dash is happy.

 

 

Postcards and Postscripts

by Bob Sparrow

You would have had to be living in a cave for the last several weeks to not have seen a tribute or two about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, after their passing on Dec 27th and 28th of last year.   We were reminded of how Debbie, at 19 and with zero dancing experience, partnered up with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Conner to create one of the most beloved musicals of all time, Singing in the Rain. She went on to have a number of successes as an actress, singer and businesswoman. But for my money, Carrie was the most talented one in that family.

I was first introduced to Carrie Fisher not in Star Wars, which came out in 1977 (and I didn’t see until sometime in the 90s), but by my dearly departed amigo, Don Klapperich, while he was in Saudi Arabia. We were not only sending music and audio cassette tapes back and forth to one another (prior to Al Gore inventing the Internet), but also our writing efforts in the hopes of publishing something. After reading a few samples of my efforts he recommended that I read the novel Postcards from the Edge (1987) by Carrie Fisher, that that seemed like the writing style I was trying to master. I read the book and loved it and of course he was right, it was indeed a style that I have tried to emulate without really knowing it . . . and without really much success.

Carrie followed Postcards, which was turned into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep , with a number of other novels, all of which had semi-autobiographical themes, as the heroine usually had a number of issues from which Carrie suffered – bipolar disorder, alcoholism and drug addiction.  She has also written some non-fiction books, the best in my opinion is Wishful Drinking, which she subsequently turned into a one-woman show that she performed to rave reviews! I’m sure some of you have seen it, but it’s worth another quick visit and for those who haven’t seen it I’ve inserted below a 10 minutes ‘taste’ from the hour+ performance. One of the highlights of that performance, which I could not find a short enough clip to insert here, is her explanation of her ‘family tree’ to her daughter Billie, when Billie asked if she could date Reese, the son of Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor, or were they somehow related?  Very entertaining!

Her life was filled with many highs and lows as she both dwelled in the limelight and suffered from failed relationships, but she has indeed left her mark.  If you’re not familiar with her work, I’d recommend taking a look; she’ll make you laugh as well as give you some very candid insight into relationships.

I’m thinking Don and Carrie would have made a great couple – great intelligence, great wit, a flare for the dramatic and both were just a bubble off plumb.

THERE’S A GADGET FOR THAT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

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

                            Kuri – the nag

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

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

The Vacuum Shoe

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