BACK TO THE OLD SOD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2017 was a hard year – friends died, good buddies moved away, and I didn’t lose the five pounds I so optimistically recorded on my New Year’s resolutions.  So when I saw a sign in a gift store that said, “Life is Short.  Take the trip.  Buy the shoes.  Eat the cake.”, I took it to heart.  In fairness, I’ve never had an issue with the cake part of the affirmation.  In fact, eating cake is right in my wheelhouse.  But I’m not a good shopper and my travels are limited to occasional trips with my nieces and our summer road trips.  As a life-long knitter I’ve always dreamed of going to the British Isles or Ireland but year after year I put it off.  Until I read that sign.  Exactly a year ago this week I asked a few friends if they would like to go on a knitting trip to one of my dream destinations.  They all responded a resounding “YES!” So next week we’re embarking on a nine day trip to Ireland, which we have dubbed the “Irish Princess Tour”.

Why ‘Princess?’  Because we decided that if we’re going to go, we’re going to go in style.  We are flying from Phoenix to London on a British Air 747 in the Upper Deck.  Riding “upstairs” has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I recall many years ago flying from San Francisco to New York on a 747 but I was “stuck” in business class down below.  This time, I was going to make it to the upper deck or bust!  We also decided that we would rather stay in one location rather than constantly pack and re-pack our bags.  After all, the weather this time of year is still a bit chilly and rainy so numerous layers, requiring lots of clothing options, are required.  We concluded that Killarney is centrally located, has good restaurants, and more importantly, plenty of pubs.  So we selected the Killarney Park Hotel, which I discovered after the fact, is the same hotel brother Bob and his wife Linda stayed in when they visited Killarney.  Apparently the KPH is a Sparrow tradition!

My husband helping me get into the spirit – or spirits.

Once we had our plane and hotel reservations we began to work on what would occupy our time.  Here is where another good life lesson was learned.  There is a very famous knitwear designer, Carol Feller, who lives in Cork, about an hour away from Killarney.  She does many large group classes for the Irish Tourism Board tours and we were a bit disappointed that we could not join in the tour’s classes.  Mustering up my courage, and on the premise that the worst she could say was “no”, I emailed her and asked if we could visit her studio and have a private class for the five of us.  She emailed me back within hours to say not only would she do the class, she will come up to our hotel to do it.  Armed with my newfound confidence in asking strangers for favors, I emailed a yarn store in Dublin that we’re visiting and not only did she respond that she will greet us with tea and biscuits, but that she’s arranged for Kieran Foley to give us a private trunk show.  Okay, by now most of you have glossed over Carol Feller and Kieran Foley so let me put it in terms you might relate to: it is the knitting equivalent of a golfer getting a lesson from Rory McElroy or Padraig Harrington.

One of the wonderful aspects of this trip is that there is another Type “A” on it!  While I arranged the knitting end of things, my friend Patsy worked on many other aspects, most importantly our touring agenda.  We knew that big bus tours are not for us – we’ve all had the experience of people in a group that are so annoying that you spend half your time ducking them.  Patsy did some research on Trip Advisor and found Jack at Killarney Taxi and Tours.   Jack, it turns out, is a treasure.  It’s little wonder he gets rave reviews.  Not only does he have wonderful recommendations, he acknowledged that we might want to spend a “wee bit of time in the pubs” AND he’s taking us to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory.  I love this guy already.

To top it off, well be spending our last night in Ireland at Dromoland Castle.  Yes – a real castle for fake princesses!  At the time we made the reservation the exchange rate between the Euro and the dollar was much better.  If it keeps climbing at the current pace we may be Princess Dishwashers.  Finally, I got my Ancestry DNA results in last week and I’m 20% Irish.  More about that after my brother gets his results and we find out if we’re really related.  In the mean time, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to  be 100% Irish, visiting its wild coasts, singing “Ireland’s Call” at a few pubs and paying homage to my ancestors.  I’ll keep you posted.  They do have bail bondsmen in Ireland, don’t they?

A New California Land Rush

by Bob Sparrow

“There’s gold in them thar weeds!”

Welcome to Desert Hot Springs

Not unlike the California gold rush of ’49, there is a land rush going on in the northwest corner of Coachella Valley, now know as the Coachillin’ Valley.  To paraphrase an old saying from the ‘60s, if you can remember what you did in Desert Hot Springs, you weren’t there! I recently returned from a ‘trip’ to this windy city and was amazed at what’s happening there and what it’s doing to the local real estate market. For example, six months ago a gentleman bought 5 acres of brush-pocked desert for $200,000 and just recently sold it for $1,000,000. A recent real estate ad showed 2.85 acres of raw desert for sale for $1,544,325. So why does this hot, windy seemingly god-forsaken corner of the desert command these kind of prices? The land grab in Desert Hot Springs (DHS) is because it is the first Southern California city to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation. You won’t see the marijuana growing out in the open desert; the land that is being purchased will accommodate large warehouses, and I mean large, like 3,000,000 square feet, where marijuana plants are fed by hundreds of lights and an automated irrigation system. Giant tanks pump in CO2 while computers control air conditioners that regulate temperatures through the plants’ life cycle. It has clearly become the ‘Cannabis Capital’ of the country.  The locals now affectionately call their city Desert Pot Springs.

One of many spacious warehouses

For decades, Desert Hot Springs had relied on its ‘miracle’  mineral waters and nude spa resorts to lure tourists to this tumbleweed town. It is home to the largest collection of warm mineral springs in the United States, but the population of some 28,000 people have mostly suffered. A third of its residents lived in poverty and the city filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2001. A housing bust seven years later deepened the fallout. Now land values, the building industry and marijuana growing are creating jobs and starting to make this city rich.  To say the least, it’s created a buzz.

The mayor of DHS, Scott Matas seems to be fairly buzzed as the projected income to the city within the next couple of years will add approximately $10 million annually to the city coffers and upwards of $25 million within 8 years. The mayor actually gets giddy when he is reminded that California is voting this coming November on the legal use of recreational marijuana . . . and you know how we Californians love to recreate. The mayor may also be thinking of doing some creative advertising by reversing the engines on all those energy-generating windmills in his city and start blowing some of that wacky-tabaccy smoke toward Los Angeles.

While the tony neighboring cities of Palm Springs and Indian Wells have malls filled with expensive fashion accessories, DHS has malls filled with pot paraphernalia and brownie shops. Today the standard greeting in DHS sounds the same, “Hi”, but it’s spelled a little differently and asked as a question, “High?” It won’t be long before new streets around these mega-warehouses are given names like Pot Place, Cannabis Circle, Weed Way and Doobie Drive. It wouldn’t surprise me if they renamed a section of the freeway that runs by DHS in honor of former president, Bill Clinton, from I-10 to I-Never-Inhaled.

Soon when traveling on I-10 past DHS, all you’ll have to do is roll your window down and take a deep breath; but you’ll never be able to run for president.

 

 

 

WHY WE WRITE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Capt Jim Gribbin and a Vietnamese soldier

People frequently ask me why Bob and I write this blog every week.  I’m not sure whether the emphasis is on the “why” but I’m choosing to believe that they are just interested in our motivation.  After all, we have been posting something weekly since August 2012, without missing a deadline and we have received exactly $0 for our efforts.  Sure, some posts are better than others (Bob’s trips, for example) but we have yet to resort to reporting on our root canals or colonoscopies.  The truth is that both of us love to write. We also love each other and this weekly exercise requires that we stay in frequent contact.  To us, that’s reason enough to pound something out on a regular basis.  But two weeks ago a third reason unveiled itself in the person of Bridget Lesnick.

I received a Facebook Messenger note from Bridget saying that I don’t know her but that she had read my blog about the boys from Novato High School who died in Vietnam and she wanted to ask me a few questions.  I was instantly on alert.  After all, Facebook is not exactly the most trusted company these days and I had visions of a Nigerian prince asking me for money.  But Bridget went on to explain that she was participating in a GORUCK endurance event honoring members of the Special Forces who had died around the date of the event.  She had selected Jim Gribbin, one of the boys I write about each Memorial Day, who died on March 17, 1970.  She reached out to me in hopes of learning more about him so she could tell his story to her fellow endurance participants.

Before I answered her message I decided to look up GORUCK to see if it was really a “thing”.  Sure enough, it not only is a thing, it is quite a remarkable thing.  The GORUCK company manufactures military-quality gear for civilian use.  It was founded by Jason McCarthy, a man who enlisted in the Special Forces as a result of 9/11.  His is an inspiring story that you can read about on the company’s website here: https://www.goruck.com/our-founders-story/.

Bridget’s GORUCK starting line

Jason has enlisted what he refers to as “the Cadre”, made up of former Special Forces members, to lead GORUCK events across the United States aimed at helping individuals and teams overcome adversity and lead active, empowered lives.  The events range from Light to OH MY GOD WHAT WAS I THINKING? (my term, not theirs).  Every event entails moving with weight on your back, combining strength and cardio.  Each team is expected to organize itself and choose a cause that makes their community a better place in which to live.

So…once I learned about GORUCK I responded back to Bridget, with a renewed sense of respect.  I told her a bit more about Jim and sent her photos from our high school yearbook of him in his football uniform and as an officer of a service club that was raising money for a poor village in Mexico.  Looking back, and knowing that Jim would eventually succumb to wounds suffered trying to rescue his squad, it seemed his desire to serve and protect others was a life-long trait.  I asked her to let me know how it went and last Friday I heard back from her, complete with photos.

Bridget with her ruck and photo of Jim

She said that the event was great – she actually completed TWO events that spanned 17 hours and covered 25 miles of New York City. She said that she proudly wore Jim’s photo on her ruck and honored him in the best way she knew how.  Her ruck weighed 30 pounds and she wore it the entire – freezing – night.  She started the first event at 7 p.m., finishing up at 6:30 a.m.  She then took a breather and did the second event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Every person in her group had selected a member of the Special Forces who had died within the dates of the event and they all wore a photo of the person on their ruck.  I can barely get my 10,000 steps per day completed so to say that I was impressed by Bridget and her team’s accomplishments is a vast understatement.

Two weeks ago I knew nothing about GORUCK or their events.  I now know a bit more and my gratitude and admiration are endless.   I admire Jason and his team for their work in our communities.  Oftentimes we don’t hear about the “good” news going on everyday by ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  I am especially heartened by Bridget and all those like her that care enough to remember those that we’ve lost in war.  I wish that Jim’s parents were still alive so they could see that their son’s memory is being honored in this way, 48 years after his death.  But for now, it’s enough for me to know that one of my high school mates is remembered and that this blog, in part, has helped in that.