To Your Health in this New Year

by Bob Sparrow

I’ve had some time over the last couple of weeks to reflect on what a new year really means.  A new year suggests we get to reboot, start over, fix all things from the previous year.  But reality sinks in shortly after the ball drops, the reality that you’re really just continuing the previous year, as nothing has really changed except the date. “Happy New Year”, you tell everyone and they return in kind, and you really mean it and you hope they do too – everyone wants the new year to be happy. But I entered this new year with a mind that was occupied by some not-so-happy events that took place in our neighborhood and family as 2017 came to close.

As some of you know, we’ve lived in a great neighborhood for over 32 years and we’re not even the longest standing members of our ‘hood. Unlike most neighborhoods, we actually know our neighbors, many of them – some 20+ couples on two streets. Our kids have grown up together, we socialize together and we take care of one another. When neighbors are sick or have issues that restrict their mobility, we take turns bringing in dinners, running errands and doing whatever it takes to help the neighbor in need. It’s a great feeling knowing that someone close by has your back – actually a lot of someones.

Because we’re so close, we share in both the joy and the pain of our fellow neighbors and the end of 2017 brought significant pain to three couples. Three men suffered hospitalizing, life-threatening events.  I won’t go into the specific ailments or names of the families involved, but at the end of last year, our neighborhood was reminded of both how important our health is and how quickly things can change. To hear and feel the anguish and fear of the unknown from the spouses of these three men is indeed life changing. The sad news in our neighborhood was compounded by the news that one of our very close relatives also had health issues requiring hospitalization.  We somehow mistakenly believe that really bad things are not going to happen to us, but they do, and it really hits home when it’s family or neighbors or anyone that you love.

Through emails, phone calls, text and face-to-face conversations we have shared amongst ourselves the progress of each of these four people, hoping and praying that all four would successfully come through their individual struggles and be able to return to the life they once knew.

So yes, the ending of last year just flowed into the beginning of this year with the fate of these three men and a close relative on our minds. So forgive me if I take this opportunity to remind as many people as I can how important our health is. Some things we can’t control, like genetics, but some things we can, so please remember:

  • Be thankful for your good health if you have it
  • Never take good health for granted
  • Take better care of yourself
  • Let me share an idea that doesn’t require you to spend thousands on the latest fad diet, or go to a ‘healing’ spa:
    • Diet
    • Exercise
  • Also, get to know your neighbors; there are probably some really nice people just down the street who may need your help, or who might help you in a time of need

Remember, “Life is a one time gift”


Cowboys or Indians

by Bob Sparrow

As kids, my brother Jack and I always played cowboys and Indians, because we didn’t have computer games, heck we didn’t even have television until we were almost teenagers! But we had a local movie theater where we saw a lot of cowboy and Indian movies. The cowboys were always the good guys and the Indians were always the bad guys, worse than bad guys, they were portrayed as ignorant savages! When we played, of course I always wanted to be the cowboy and I was, because Jack always wanted to be the Indian, even though he knew he was the underdog and would ultimately lose. Because he was my older, bigger brother, he may have won a battle or two with me, but in the movies the Indians never won, but that didn’t stop him from always rooting for them. This was long before ‘political correctness’ necessitated our empathy for the plight of the Native American. So growing up I always thought that Indians were a savage people that we needed to eliminate in order to carry out our ‘Manifest Destiny’.

Crazy Horse

I liked the Lone Ranger, Jack liked Tonto. I liked Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Randolph Scott; he liked Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Geronimo. His favorite movie is Dancing With Wolves, and while I can barely remember that Kevin Costner was in the movie, he remembers the name, Doris Leader Charge, the 60-year old Indian women who was a university professor and was hired to teach the Indians in  the movie the Lakota Sioux dialect that was use by the real Indians at the time. Jack never protested or overtly beat the tom-tom for Indian rights, but he would point out the differences in how the Indian versus the white man managed our natural resources, to wit:

“White man builds big fire and stands way back, Indian build small fire and sit very close.”

“The Indians never killed an animal where they didn’t use all of the parts – the meat, the innards, the fur, the head, the claws, the teeth.”

Apposed to William Cody who was purported to have killed 4,282 buffalo in 18 months and in a contest for the rights to use the name ‘Buffalo Bill’, killed 68 buffalo in an hour; and left them on the plains to rot.

Over the years I’ve become more sensitive to the Indian’s plight, reading several books about their struggles to keep their culture alive here in their native land; my eyes were also opened during a hike through the Havasupai Indian reservation in the Grand Canyon area where I witnessed how we have failed to assimilate these Indians into our culture and how it has adversely affected them.

Pechanga Indian

So on the Friday after Thanksgiving I felt the need to do a little more research on a local Indian tribe named the Payomkawichum, which translates into ‘People of the West’.  To say these people are indigenous to southern California is an understatement, they’ve inhabited the land here for over 10,00 years. Their name was changed by the Spaniard missionaries to the Luisenos, probably because Payomkawichum was too hard to pronounce.  Now they are more familiarly known as the Pechanga Indians – officially the Pechanga Band of the Luiseno Indian Tribe. My research took me to Temecula and the largest Indian casino in California, Pechanga Resort and Casino. Immediately sensing that I needed to spend more than one day doing my research, I booked a room for two nights.

The latest Pechanga reservation

I discovered that apparently these Indians were really into games of chance as there were over 3,400 slot machines in the place as well as tables for blackjack, poker, craps (not with dice, that’s illegal for some reason!) and various other wagering games. Now, being empathetic to the Indian cause thanks to my brother, I felt obligated to contribute in some way to their well-being. I was comfortable at first with my initial financial donation, but after the first day of ‘research’ I found that I was being more philanthropic than I had anticipated. Thinking of everything, the Indians were able to provide me with a handy ATM machine to access more donation funds.

I slept well that night, knowing that in some small way, OK maybe not so small, I had helped provide shelter and sustenance for some Native Americans. I knew that in games of chance you win some and you lose some and I was now positioned to ‘win some’. Saturday came full of hope and the good feeling of knowing that I had donated significantly to a worthy cause and perhaps I would be rewarded with a small token of appreciation.

Those damn Indians! Where was my ‘win some’?! I pay $7 for a beer and over $450 a night for a room and this is how I get rewarded?

I guess this is what I get for always being the cowboy as a kid.

Circumnavigating Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe. Just the name brings so many great memories rushing back to me. As those who read here know, we have a long history wth ‘The Lake’ and usually try to get up there in October, when most of the tourists have gone home, to visit our parent’s final resting place. Brother Jack & Sharon and their families went up in July, but we were in Europe at the time so we figured we’d make it up next year, until Jack & JJ Budd, long-time travel companions, had a timeshare week they had to ‘use or lose’ at the Marriott Timber Lodge at the base of Heavenly Valley in South Lake Tahoe, and invited us to join them.  We happily accepted.

Sunnyside deck on a summer’s night

The weather was crystal clear; in fact we never saw a single cloud the entire time we were there. The air however was very crisp during the day and more than crisp at night as temperatures dipped into the 20s and high teens. We decided to take a drive around ‘The Lake’, starting the drive up the west shore. The first thing I noticed was the lake level; years of draught had lowered the lake so much that no water was going over the spillway that creates the Truckee River. Now, due to record snowfall in the Sierras last winter, the lake was as high as I’d ever seen it. As we drove past Emerald Bay I recalled the hikes we did from there up to Eagle Lake and the great views it provides. We weaved our way past Meeks Bay, where I could still smell the Coppertone sun lotion our mom use to put on us – in fact I can’t smell Coppertone today without mentally going to that great sandy beach at Meeks Bay. Just prior to getting into Tahoe City at the north end of the lake, we took a quick detour up Chinquapin Lane and drove by the cabin that Uncle Dick bought in 1951 (Suzanne, sorry to report that the picture of our ‘Aunt Marilyn’ is no longer on the cabin wall). As we drove by, so many memories were rushing through my mind. How lucky we were to have such a ‘Summer Place’ in which to play while we were growing up.

Lakeside lunch at Garwoods

We continued up the road less than a mile before we came upon Sunnyside Lodge – now a very haute destination, but back in the 50s it was a rustic lodge/bar with seven rooms and only two bathrooms, one at each end of the hall, a combination liquor store/bait shop and a small marina where Jack and I would fish using drop lines from the pier (and never caught anything!). Today, Sunnyside sports the largest deck on the lake and is the spot to be on a beautiful summer’s day or evening. Continuing our journey, we drove through Tahoe City, where Jack owned The Off Shore Bar & Grill right on the lake, and continued up to Rocky Ridge, which offers the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe I’ve ever seen and is the final resting place for mom and dad. We checked in with them, soaked up the amazing views and continued on our way. We stopped for lunch at Garwoods, which is one of the only places at the north end of the lake that offers lakeside lunch dining during this ‘shoulder season’. We sat outside on the deck in amazing weather and had the best fish & chips on the lake, or anywhere except Scotland as far as I was concerned.

Visiting Mom & Dad at Rocky Ridge

As we continue our trip, we leave California and enter Nevada and stop by CalNeva, a once very popular hotel and casino on the lake where Frank Sinatra was once one of the owners and the ‘Rat Pack’ made regular appearances. Mom, Dad and Uncle Dick would dress to the nines on a Saturday night and go ‘over the line’ (the California-Nevada border) for an evening of dining, dancing and gambling at CalNeva and come home way after we kids were fast asleep. Today there is a fence around CalNeva as it is in rehab, or rather reconstruction. I’m hoping it will, in time, return to its glory days.

We continued down the east shore, which is mostly Nevada State Park with very few signs of civilization, although it has several spectacular beaches. Between Zephyr Cove and Glenbrook is the Cave Rock Tunnel, created in 1931 and the only tunnel on the trip around the lake.

We pulled into Stateline, south shore Lake Tahoe completing our trip that covered not only the 72 miles around the lake, but the 65-some odd years of wonderful memories.  It was a good day!

Suzanne on the ‘Midnight Express’

by Bob Sparrow

Suzanne’s new friends

Suzanne’s popular and much-read Memorial Day blog, They Were Soldiers Once, And Young, along with last week’s post about our lovable father may be her last blogs for a while. Let me explain . . .

Two weeks ago we received an email response to the first aforementioned blog. We typically love responses, but we didn’t particularly love this one. It read:

Hello, is there an email address to reach you guys regarding a copyright issue on your website?”

At first we thought it was ‘spam’, we get a lot of that, I guess maybe because we (I) write a lot of that, but we looked to see from whom it was sent. Perhaps it was a friend who was just trying to mess with us. It wasn’t. The sender of the email was a name that seemed to be just a mishmash of letters, so it was, we thought, clearly a prank from a fictitious name.  But we decided to see what Google had to say about this mishmash of letters. It turns out that there is, in fact, a person with a name of this combination of mishmash letters. We wondered who it was and why were they emailing us? And what possible copyright issue could there be? Lots of questions, but no answers, until . . .

My Google search had numerous headings under this name, but my attention was immediately directed to a heading with which I was familiar, From A Birdseye View. My first thought was, “Hey, it’s our blog, that’s cool”. Then I thought, “Oh shit, why is a copy of our blog listed here under this name?”

As I read further and learned more, I opened the link to our blog that appeared in this Google search and the pieces started falling into place. The blog was Suzanne’s annual Memorial Day tribute from 2016, in which she used one of this person’s photos that she found on line. As I learned more detail, I found that this person is a well-known and published Turkish photographer, having had a number of exhibits in the states as well as Turkey and has won a number of awards for photography here, in Turkey and in the UK and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey. I’d put a photo here, but that’s the kind of thing that got us in trouble in the first place.

In correspondence with this person, it was indicated that whoever was responsible for putting this photo on our blog (Suzanne!) was being subpoenaed to immediately appear in Turkish court for violations of international copyright laws. I quickly responded and pronounced my innocence and indicated that it was totally my sister’s doing, that I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. I know, it sounds like I’m throwing her under the bus, but I was furtively trying the strategy of taking the opponents side in the argument to let them know we were reasonable and rational people (at least I was), and I suppose at the same time I may have been distancing myself from my sister’s heinous act.

I understand why she’s here, but why am I here?

So, long story short, last week Suzanne flew to Turkey and appeared in Turkish court, admitting that she used the photo, but saying that she was unaware that the photo was taken by our emailer and explained that when she learned of her mistake, she immediately took down the photo (you may have noticed that a photo that had usually appeared in Suzanne’s blog in previous years, was replaced this year).  Too little, too late.  Her plea fell on deaf ears, deaf Turkish ears I should remind you.  So unfortunately Suzanne has taken up residency in a Turkish prison, sharing a cell with a Sri Lankan murderer and a drug dealer from Bangladesh. The court did take pity on her and allowed her to bring Dash, The Wonder Dog, with her. So she does have some companionship, that is aside from the murderer and drug dealer. It’s not all bad, she’s actually getting along quite well in her new environment as she has started a prison knitting class for the guards, which seems to be going quite well. Who knew that Turkish men loved knitting?

Copyright infractions in Turkey can carry up to a 30-year sentence at hard labor, but there is a possibility of parole after 28 years, so Suzanne could be out sometime before she turns 100.  I’ve sent her the DVD series ‘Prison Break’, so she’s got that and she does have Dash, who spends most of his time digging.

If you’d like to write to Suzanne, she can be reached by sending correspondence to:

Shit Hole, Istanbul, Turkey

OK, just kidding . . . it’s only a 20 year sentence.

The Addition of Addison

by Bob Sparrow

Addison at 1 minute old

Somewhere around 353,000 babies were born in the world last Friday, June 2, 2017, approximately 11,000 of those were born in the U.S. on that day and around 1,300 in California.  So having a baby that day didn’t appear to be really that big a deal.  Unless it’s an addition to your family that you’ve long-awaited and comes with a back-story fit for a tv mini-series.

Daughter and expectant mother, Dana Sparrow Borrelli has been through two open-heart surgeries, the first when she was one-and-a-half and the other just a few years ago, as well as several intravenous operations where doctors go in through an artery in the groin up to the heart to replace a valve. I don’t think they learned that on YouTube!  Once her heart was ‘baby-ready’, there were other difficulties in bringing a new Borrelli into this world, including a miscarriage and several tries of artificial insemination.   During that process, daughter Stephanie, Dana’s older sister, volunteered to carry the baby for her as a surrogate mother – a true act of love!  They ultimately tried the very expensive process of in vitro, and it took! The process produced 8 fertilized eggs, four boys and four girls, a girl was inserted and the other seven were put in the freezer for future delivery – probably not all seven!
This entire process would have certainly discouraged the average person, but Dana is no average person – through it all, she kept an unbelievably positive attitude, and while we know she was dying on the inside, there was never a ‘why me?’ attitude, just great perseverance.
Her perseverance paid off in spades last week with the arrival of Addison Sparrow Borrelli, a 7 lb. 8 oz., 22 inch beautiful girl, but of course it didn’t come easy.
Dana was brought into Huntington Hospital in Pasadena on Wednesday evening around 10:00 p.m., May 31 with the idea that she would be given a medication (Pitocin) that would help her deliver in approximately 12 hours.  Linda and I left home early Wednesday morning to make sure we got to the hospital on time.  Around mid-day Thursday, June 1, Dana was getting severe labor pains and was given an epidural, which relieved the pain, but slowed down the labor process.  Thursday evening, still no baby and cervix dilation was minimal.  Through the night, Dana and Joe were resting fairly comfortably in her room, in fact they were probably resting more comfortably than we were trying to catch a few winks on hard, straight-back chairs in the waiting room.  We maybe got 30 minutes of shut eye throughout the whole night.  By 7:00 a.m. we were back in Dana’s room where she was getting closer to delivery, but still not there.  Around 8:00 the doctor arrived and Linda and Joe got to remain in the delivery room, I’m ushered out to the waiting room.  After about an hour of ‘pushing’ and with exhaustion written all over Dana’s face, Addison made her debut, showing a few ‘battle scars’ but looking beautiful and healthy.  Dana, not so much – she looked and felt exhausted, but her heart held up well and within 30 minutes, her color had returned to her face along with her engaging smile.  But it wasn’t until the following day that Joe brought her a cheeseburger, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

The cherry on top of all this for us was that of all the 353,000 babies born in the world on June 2, Addison was voted ‘The Most Beautiful’.  OK, only our immediately family got to vote, but the vote was not influenced by the Russians!

Dana and Joe took their new addition home on Sunday, June 4.  Linda and I had a hard time complaining about our 40+ hours without sleep when we realized what Dana had been through to make this miracle happen.  We all agreed – it was all well worth it!

A Birthday Tribute to Our Brother, the ‘Other’ Jack Sparrow

by Bob Sparrow


Jack, blowing out not quite 75 candles

A party was held in our home last week to celebrate the 75th birthday of our brother, Jack Sparrow. He is not only my brother, but my best friend and has been since right after he broke my arm. I was 12, he was 14 and like most brothers we’d have an occasional difference of opinion; fights never lasted too long as he was much bigger and stronger than me, but I was of the opinion that it ‘wasn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it was the size of the fight in the dog’. Yeah, well that philosophy didn’t work out so well on this occasion when I thought I was going to land a big ‘haymaker’ right on his chin, when he put up his arm and blocked it. My forearm hurt for several days after and when I finally went to the doctor and had it x-rayed, my arm was found to be broken. That was our last fight.

Jack BB

6’4″ center at Novato High School

Later that same year, he entered high school and was a three-sport letterman for the next four years. Not just a letterman, he was good . . . real good. I idolized him, he was the best athlete I had ever seen and the great thing about it was he didn’t treat me like a ‘bothersome little brother’, he always had time to work with me to teach me to throw a baseball and football and shoot a basketball.

In his senior year he was 6’4” and 180 pounds – great size in 1959. Aside from getting good grades and being student body president, he stood out in every sport he played.  In basketball, at the center position, his turnaround jump shot from 15’ and in was an automatic. He was the top scorer and rebounder on the team and amongst the leaders in both categories in the league; he was a unanimous All-League selection. He received scholarship offers to play basketball at a number of West Coast schools.

He was the ace pitcher on the baseball team and an All-League selection, who lead his team to a league championship in his senior year. He had a great fastball and a wicked curve; he threw several one and two-hit ball games and was being talked to by major league scouts to continue his career in baseball.

Jack 3 QBs

College of Pacific quarterback

But his love was football. At quarterback he had a rifle arm, could run extremely well and was a great on-the-field leader of the team. In his four years of high school football, he lost only 4 games. Back in 1959 there was a North-South Shrine game, where top high school seniors from Northern California played against the top seniors from Southern California in the Los Angeles Coliseum in the summer following their senior year. Jack was selected to play in that game along with two other quarterbacks from the North, Daryle Lamonica, who was headed to Notre Dame and ultimately a great career with the Oakland Raiders, and Bill Munson, who was headed to Utah State and later drafted in the first round by the Rams and played 16 seasons in the NFL for various teams. Needless to say, it was a very tough competition for the starting quarterback spot. Guess who worked his ass off and was named the starting quarterback for the North? Yep, Capt. Jack; and they won the game!

I was a sophomore during Jack’s senior year and was in awe of the college football coaches and recruiters from all across the country who sat in our living room trying to convince Jack to go to their school. He ultimately chose College of Pacific in Stockton, the school his high school coach had attended and at the time, had a high-powered football program, headed by star running back Dick Bass, who went on to have an outstanding pro career with the Los Angeles Rams.

off shore

Off Shore Bar & Grill – Lake Tahoe

Tragically, Jack broke his neck playing in a game in his junior year in college, yet remarkably came back to play in his senior year. But the neck injury came back to haunt him after his senior year, when he took the physical at the San Francisco 49ers training camp and was told that the risk of re-injuring the neck was too great for him to pursue a career in football.

Jack went on to have an outstanding career in the restaurant management business, capped by owning his own restaurant, the Off Shore Bar & Grill, on the shores of north Lake Tahoe. After he and wife, Sharon, moved to Santa Maria, he was convinced by none other than Fess Parker himself, who became a good friend, to come to work at the Fess Parker Winery, where to this day he still enjoys working part-time in the tasting room.


Bob, Suzanne and Jack

Some 25-30 friends and family attended the party to help Jack celebrate his three-quarters of a century on the planet.  He enjoyed some good wine and a few gag gifts, but most of all he enjoyed the friends and family who had gathered on this beautiful southern California evening to wish him well.

You readers know what a awesome sister I have; I just feel so fortunate to have such great siblings – hat’s off to Mom and Dad, who at least got 2 out of 3 right!



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Beautiful Central Coast

The Beautiful Central Coast

Each year we spend some part of the summer in the Central Coast region of California.  It’s beautiful beaches, oak-studded hills and temperate climes make it the perfect place to escape the heat of Scottsdale in July and August.   Well, let’s face it, anyplace that has temperatures less than 105 is the perfect place.  But literally, the Central Coast has been designated as having the most consistent weather in. the U.S.  In the last dozen years it’s also become known for something else – wine!   The San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county wine-makers are giving their northern brethren a run for their money.    They have a long way to go, but having grown up in Northern California, I can remember when Sonoma and Napa were best known for dairy farmers and ranchers.  The Gallos were the biggest wine makers back in the day, generating their huge bottles of Italian reds that were cheap even then.  Once the Mondavis and Beringers began cultivating serious wine grapes, well, the rest is history.

On the Central Coast our ventures out to the wine trail usually take us to the vineyards of Santa Barbara County for reasons that will become evident later.  The first recorded wine-maker in the area was none other than Junipero Serra, who planted the first vines back in 1872.  I must say, between founding missions and exploring the El Camino Real, Father Serra was a pretty busy guy.  In any event, over the following 100 years the area gained  sixteen more vintners and grew to over 260 acres of grapes.

Sadly, during the Depression the Prohibition buzzkills burned many of these historic vineyard sites and mostly put an end to winemaking in the Central Coast.  Fortunately,there are always those that find their way around any ridiculous law so the passion for wine making was carried on by a group of scofflaws.  From that small seed, or vine as the case may be, grew the abundant grape-growing region that exists today.  In large part, the recent popularity of Santa Barbara County wineries can be attributed to the wonderful little movie, “Sideways” which was filmed in and around several of the local venues.  The popularity of the movie turned out to be a boon for tourism and local wine, especially the Pinot noir that the region is famous for.  (For those of you who have seen the movie I can attest that it is possible to get a bottle of Merlot here too!).

Fess, in his Davy Crockett days

Fess, in his Davy Crockett days

So why do we frequent the Santa Barbara County wineries? Because our brother, Jack Sparrow, works for the Fess Parker Winery.  Lucky?  You bet!  But we have a long history in our family of having fun retirement jobs.  When our dad quit his day job he worked at Sonoma National and then his local golf course as a starter until he was in his early 80’s.  Our mom, who was rivaled only by the Queen of England in her love for jewelry, retired from the local school district and worked at a jewelry store until she was 90.  Brother Bob helps people, which is his passion, in both volunteer and part-time jobs, and as a life-long fiber enthusiast, I have been lucky enough to work part-time in a knitting shop for 13 years.  But it is brother Jack who really lucked out.  He spent most of his career in the restaurant business, even owning his own place in Tahoe for a few years.  So he knows his way around food and wine (as opposed to the rest of the family that just consumes lots of both).

Jack, displaying his wares

Jack, displaying his wares

Ten years ago when Jack and his wife Sharon moved to the Central Coast Jack went in search of a fun retirement job.  He was hired at Fess Parker Winery and soon met “the man” himself.  For those of a certain age, we remember him best for his portrayal of Davey Crockett.   Jack spent many hours with Fess, hearing about his days in Hollywood and with Disney.  But it was Fess’ love of wine-making that captured Jack’s attention.  He absorbed all that he could until Fess died in 2010.  Now, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday you can find Jack behind the bar in the tasting room, regaling customers with stories about Fess, the winery and the wines.  Jack’s great oratory skills (we have another name for that in the family) are evident in the rapt attention that his audience gives him. Seriously, although I’m the one working in a knit shop, it is Jack that spins a good yarn.  My husband says that the most fun he has is sitting quietly in a corner of the tasting room, watching Jack work his magic.  It is no coincidence that he has been the top seller of wine club memberships for several years running.

The Fess Parker Winery

The Fess Parker Winery

By the time you read this we will be home inspecting our remodeling project and, thus, drinking lots of wine.  If your travels take you to California I highly recommend a stop in the Central Coast.   Just one warning:  if you go to the Fess Parker winery when Jack is working, reconcile yourself to walking out of there a wine club member!






Got ‘Minnesota Nice’? Ya Darn Tootin’

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by Bob Sparrow


I had the pleasure last week of traveling to Minnesota for the celebration of Warren & Phyllis Barnes’ (Linda’s parents)70th wedding anniversary. Yes, 70th!! Just to put that in perspective, they were married between the surrender of Germany and the surrender of Japan during World War II; and so it was on June 15, 1945 that Warren surrendered to Phyllis. Most of you young ‘whippersnappers’ reading this weren’t even born yet. The anniversary celebration took place in the city of Rochester, which, as home to the Mayo Clinic, has a lot of big city amenities, but has still retained its small town, rural charm.

Warren and Phyllis are a treasure. Warren, who is 91, has an easy smile and while he may have lost a step or two, he still has a vice-like handshake, thanks to 20 years of milking cows on their family-owned dairy farm. Phyllis, who just turned 89 last Friday, is as sweet and sharp as ever and stays up on family news on her iPad Facebook account. On the evening of our arrival she prepared, unassisted, a delicious chicken casserole, corn and fruit salad dinner for eight – their three children and we significant others . . . OK, maybe we’re not that significant.  I learned a couple of things about a Minnesota home-cooked meal, 1) you WILL have seconds of everything, or you’ll insult the cook, and 2) you WILL save room for desert. IMN Nice2 happily made room for Phyllis’ homemade, blue-ribbon rhubarb and/or apple pie . . . ala mode, of course. The dinner conversation moved from reminiscing about the old one-room schoolhouse (called the‘Cigar Box’) that the kids all attended to Phyllis’ wheeler-dealer grandfather, ‘John Mac’, to a discussion of what is‘Minnesota Nice’?

I learned that Wikipedia actually has a definition for ‘Minnesota Nice’: the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered’, but I wanted to ask several Minnesotan family members what they thought it meant.Denise Cobb, grand daughter to the honored couple, offered an example where she was called ‘Connie’ by a fellow worker, but initially was too afraid to tell him he was calling her by the wrong name and then after several weeks of being ‘Connie’, was too embarrassed to tell him that he’d been calling her the wrong name all this time. Denise’s husband Gene, leaned over to me and said, “Minnesota nice is about how long it takes for people to say good-bye, just watch. From the time a Minnesotan says they’re leaving to the time they actually leave is probably somewhere around 40 minutes. People will follow you to the door, follow you to your car and still be talking to you as you’re pulling out of their driveway. You’re not really gone until you are in your car several miles down the road.” I checked that theory out over the course of my time there – he’s absolutely right.

HubbellHousePhyllis’ birthday dinner on Friday took place about 15 miles from Rochester in the bucolic town of Mantorville at the historic Hubbell House, a restaurant that’s been in continuous operation since 1854. Their guest list includes a variety of celebrities from Ulysses S. Grant to Mickey Mantle, so we know they’ve served alcohol throughout their entire history.

Barnes family

The ‘family only’ anniversary celebration on Saturday was in the community room at Warren & Phyllis’ senior apartment complex. They weren’t all in attendance, but their extended family now consists of: 3 children, 12 grand children, 27 great grand children, 2 great, great grand children. I was able to corner Phyllis for a few minutes to ask her the secret to a 70-year marriage. She seemed kind of surprised by the question, like she wasn’t really keeping a secret, but she smiled and said, “Always kiss and make up before you go to bed.” It has been clear to me for many years that their ‘secret’ is in their positive attitudes; they always seem to find the best in people and believe that good things will come their way – and they have. They have nurtured a great family, they have their health and they still laugh a lot.

On the airplane ride back home, I felt very fortunate to be part of this amazing family and realized that while I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I had just personally experienced ‘Minnesota Nice’.

A Taste of the High Life at Desert Highlands

by Bob Sparrow


Suzanne & Bob at Desert Highlands

Suzanne and Alan had their turn in the barrel last weekend – it was their turn to host Alan’s golf group.  It was also a good excuse to celebrate our father’s 101st birthday (although he’s been gone for 14 years) as well as Valentine’s Day. As it happened Linda and I were looking to go to Arizona to see her sister and mine. It was a chance for us to get out of this blustery winter in Southern California (the temperature had dropped below 70 for two straight days!) After a short visit with Linda’s sister, Starlet and husband, Donnie in Apache Junction (I’m sure the visit didn’t seem short to them, they fed us dinner, gave up their bed for the evening and fixed us breakfast the next morning), we headed off to see Suzanne and Al in Desert Highlands. Thank you Donnie and Starlet!

Desert Highlands is a very exclusive gate-guarded golf community in northern Scottsdale, where they’ve lived for the past 15 years. We’ve been there a number of times before and it’s always been great to get together with them, but this time it seemed particularly up-scale.

GOLF course

My view from the ‘transition’

The party on Saturday was exquisite – Suzanne and Al have a beautiful home on the 5th hole of the golf course with an expansive view of the surrounding mountains. They had enough food to feed an army and enough booze to sink a navy. But the highlight, as it should be with any party, was the attendees. If I was expecting a bunch of snooty multi-millionaires, who had little time for interloping relatives (which of course I wasn’t . . . OK, maybe a little), I couldn’t have been more wrong. Really, what should I have expected from classy people like Suzanne and Al? To the person, every one of the guests was genuinely friendly, interesting and engaging. I almost felt like I belonged there, which I had learned the day before that I didn’t.

The day before was one of those very memorable days – one that you’d love to live over and over. We arrived at Desert Highlands golf clubhouse and were met by the golf attendants. They took our clubs and then they took our car! Before I could run after them yelling “Hey, my car’s being stolen”, Al let me know that the club offers a free valet service and that my car would be returned upon completion of the round of golf . . . and no tipping! I knew that!

The manicured golf course, nestled around Pinnacle Peak, is a visual spectacle; even the rough was like fairway, which is a good thing as I spent plenty of time there. I also spent a good deal of time in what they call the ‘transition’ area and quickly discovered that getting through the transition area was a kin to crawling with the French Foreign Legion through the Sahara Desert. Suffice it say that my game allowed me to see the entire golf course and way too much of the ‘transition’ area. It was nonetheless a beautiful golf course, the weather was perfect and I was with good company – I kept telling myself that the score really didn’t matter.

I did managed to play the 19th hole well – the Desert Highlands clubhouse, which was very posh to begin with, had recently been remodeled and was now nothing short of spectacular, with new boulder-framed sitting areas and fire pits around a new, outside ‘Sunset Bar’ over-looking the pool and the city of Scottsdale beyond. Add a cold beer and it doesn’t get much better than this. But it did!


The Gett’s backyard

Friday evening after golf, we were invited to dinner at the home of a very fun couple, Bob & Liz Gett (pronounced jet), friends of Suzanne and Al. The Gett’s home should be called the Grand Desert Highlands Resort – comparing it to a luxurious Ritz-Carlton would be selling their home short!  The 8,500 square foot, elegantly decorated home actually is only out done their beautifully appointed outside living area, with landscape lighting, pool, spa, multiple fire places, giant TV screen, covered barbecue area and . . .and . . . and . . .


Bob & Bob having a Cuban cigar

After a delicious dinner and engaging conversation about the Patriots’ recent Super Bowl victory (Bob & Liz are from the Boston open and they attended the game), we sat outside with after-dinner drinks and watched the city lights of Scottsdale come alive following one of those spectacular Arizona sunsets. Just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any better, Bob asked, “Would you like a Cuban cigar?” Heaven.

Thank you Suzanne and Al for a weekend that our father would have really enjoyed, even at 101!


A Tribute to the Tribute Writer

By Bob Sparrow

record breaking     I want to sincerely thank my sister for writing such a wonderful blog last week; it was ‘record-breaking’ – the most hits in a single day (nearly 400), the most hits in a week (700 and still counting at press time) and the most comments ever on one post (21 and counting); plus 3 more people subscribed to our blog!  Which we love!  And I’d also like to thank her for putting me in the position of having to follow that masterpiece!

     After reading and seeing the reaction to that post, I immediately realized that my blog ideas for this week, ‘Is that Grandma that got run over by a reindeer covered by Obamacare?’ and ‘Is the Grinch really retired and living in Palm Beach?’ seemed a bit trifling; plus I think my sister deserves to bask in her success a bit longer; so as any ace reporter would do in my position, I called her for an interview.  She agreed.

BS (that’s me): Why do you think this tribute to Leslie was so widely read and commented upon?

SW (that’s her): First of all, it is a reflection of Leslie and the great esteem people had for her.  Once she was your friend, she was your friend for life.  I think she found people inherently interesting and “collected” friends throughout her life.  She was always fascinated by people – what they did for a living, their interests, and their political beliefs.  She was never judgmental, even if she disagreed.  I think she absorbed everyone’s information and gleaned some portion that she could relate to and then built a friendship on that.  As someone said, she had a knack for making everyone feel that they were her best friend.92730032

The second reason I think people responded to it is that, at some level, people can relate to losing someone special.  We got a lot of comments and they ran the spectrum from “I also have a childhood friend that I cherish” to “I haven’t talked with my childhood friend in a long time and this has prompted me to call.”

A third reason is that friends and family members ‘shared’ the blog on social media with their friends, something we’re always happy about when our reader like or appreciate what we’ve written.

BS: What is it about the special relationship you had with Leslie that you remember the most?

SW: I think that the first friends you make outside of your family are ones that make the greatest impression.  Remember,tribute Leslie and I met when we were seven years old.  Now it seems like we were still babies, although she was smart enough to swindle me with the soap!  We became part of each other’s family.  Both of our mother’s took to praising – and correcting – us as if we were her own daughter.  As kids, there weren’t a lot of distractions so our time was spent in each other’s bedrooms playing games, running around outside in the open fields, or our weekend walks to the Five and Dime.  I couldn’t tell you what we ever talked about but what sticks with me is the closeness that we had.  We told each other everything and even into adulthood we were always very honest with each other – there were no pretenses or “putting a good face” on anything.  She had my back and I had hers, so we really were like sisters.

BS: You’ve written several tributes and they’ve all been well received; why do you think they resonate so well with our readers?

SW: I think that often times we don’t get the full picture of someone from an obituary.  Obituaries, which are more factual in nature, typically tell what the person did; a tribute conveys who the person was.  Plus, with the advent of social media, a tribute can be seen by far more people than an obituary in a newspaper would allow.  I started doing tributes a few years ago when a friend died and did not have any survivors.  I thought it was important that her life be recognized in some way and that people get a full picture of who she was.  I always like to tell stories and include pictures so that anyone reading them, whether they knew the person or not, comes away with an appreciation for how special the person was.

Tahoe_1965 (2)

Leslie & Suzanne, both 15, with Mom & Dad at Tahoe

BS: You make a good point about the difference between an obituary and a tribute. Have you ever written a tribute about someone still living? The reason I ask is that Linda put together what amounted to be a ‘living tribute’ for her father last year, who was turning 90. The idea was to gather family and friends together while he was still alive to show and tell him how much he was loved.

SW: Yes, I’ve written several tributes for people still living and I agree, I think Leslie would have been blown away by the wonderful comments that people have made about her.  I wish that she was here to read them. I think a ‘living tribute’ is a way to let people know how special they are when they are still around to hear it.

BS: I’ll ask this next questions with some trepidation; now that our readers have confirmed that you are one terrific tribute writer, do you think they’ll be asking you to write their next tribute?

SW: I do this because  I love it, almost as much as my dog, Dash.  We’ll see what the future brings.  For now, I’m just happy that Leslie’s family and friends were able to get a better insight into her early life.

BS: Well said, thanks for the interview Sis

SW: You’re most welcome; does this mean it’s my turn again to write next week?

BS: Maybe.  Merry Christmas!