<

A Visit with King Tutankhamen

Steve Martin, not King Tut

You’ve probably heard the name King Tut, and perhaps, like me, one of the first things that comes to mind is Steve Martin’s wild and crazy song and dance back in 1978. But, you knew at some level there really was a King Tut, he was from Egypt, fairly young and . . . OK, maybe that’s about it. If that’s the case, come with me now as I go back in time over 3,000 years, and it seemed that way as I slugged my way through L.A. traffic to see the latest exhibit of King Tut at Exhibition Park, next to the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Our first stop is the seven-story screen of the IMAX Theater showing The Mysteries of Egypt. Stay with me, as it’s only about 20 minutes long and it’s actually very interesting, even if Egyptology isn’t your thing. The film tells the story of why King Tut’s tomb was so hard to find. Prior to his death in 1323 B.C. Egypt buried their Pharaohs inside massive pyramids, but since they also buried many treasures with them, so they could have them in their ‘after-life’, burglars were able to easily find these treasures and use them in ‘now life’ – as you can probably figure out, the pyramids weren’t that hard for the burglars to locate. So they started burying their Pharaohs out in the vast desert known as the Valley of the Kings.

After five unsuccessful archaeological trips to Egypt to find Tut’s burial place, the sixth time was the charm for British archaeologist, Howard Carter, who unearthed the buried tomb in 1922.

Valley of the Kings

After the movie and before we go into the exhibit hall, we need a quick crash course on the amazing story of this ‘boy king’. You think politics is crazy now, here’s some stuff that was going on in the 1330s B.C.:

  • King Tut’s mother was his father’s sister
  • He became king of Egypt at the age of 9
  • He married that year to his half-sister, a 13-year old named Ankhesenpaaten, who later changed her name to Ankhesenamun, obviously to make the spelling of her name easier. Legos, Playstation and a new bicycle were items on their wedding gift list.
  • They had two stillborn daughters – one at 5 months, the other at 9 months (How do they know that stuff????)
  • He really didn’t rule, he had ‘handlers’ who made all the decisions

He wasn’t really what one might see as a majestic royal figure. He was slight of build, large front incisors, with an overbite, a slightly cleft palate, irregular curvature of the spine and a fused neck. He had a clubbed left foot, which necessitated a cane for walking most of his life. DNA samples of his bones show that he had the first known infectious malaria disease.  Other than that he was a picture of health.

He died when he was 18, but how he died has been the subject of a lot of speculation – there are at least 5 working theories:

  1. Murdered – he (and/or his handlers) had lots of enemies
  2. An accident – probably murder made to look like an accident
  3. Sickle cell disease – due to his abnormally shaped red blood cells
  4. Gangrene from an infection from a broken leg
  5. Congenital conditions coming as a child of incest

It seems strange to me that we know the gestation period of his wife’s two stillborn children, but don’t have a clue as to how he died!  Keep digging!!

King Tut’s Burial Mask

Oh yes, on to the Exhibit Hall; actually after reading about the search for his tomb and his interesting life, the actual artifacts found in his tomb, many on display here, are a little less interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful pieces, over 5,000 of them were found in the tomb, things like furniture, jewelry, chariots, food and of course his golden coffin and the iconic mask.

If you go . . . The exhibit will be here until January 2019; if you go during the school year you’ll be accosted by thousands of L.A. elementary school children on a field trip as I was, yelling, fighting and throwing food – I’d go during the summer or on a weekend, but I’d go.  Another tip, when you go to the gift shop don’t by the King Tut CD, he recorded it before his voice changed and he sounds more like Cleopatra.

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.

 

 

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday

by Bob Sparrow

Not the breakfast of Champions!

Saturday – Breakfast at the Sun Diner where it was confirmed, with menu items like Crème Brulee Cinnamon French Toast (which I ordered – photo at left) and Banana Foster Pancakes, that we were not at a health spa eating kale and chia seeds. We also realized that beer for breakfast here is not all that unusual and we certainly didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by being the only ones not drinking a beer at 9:00 in the morning.

The streets filled quickly with people on this Saturday as we once again found great acoustical music coming from every bar on Broadway, which was virtually every door except those selling cowboy hats and boots. We discovered that Nashville is the Bachelor and Bachelorette Party capital of the world. And most interesting was these partiers’ various modes of transportation up and down Broadway. There was the ‘Fall Off the Wagon’ pulled by a John Deere tractor, there was the ‘Pedal Tavern’, the ‘Party Barge’ and a couple of other ‘boat floats’, one called the ‘Tip Sea’ and another called ‘Ship Faced’.

Our fear of not getting enough to drink prompted us to sign up for a late afternoon ‘Pub Crawl’, where we met up with other ‘crawlers’ from Boston, Michigan and Indiana. Our ‘Crawl Master’ gave us some history of whiskey, Nashville and Civil War General Joseph Hooker, where he perpetrated the myth that Hooker provided his men with loose women after a hard day on the battlefield and thus the name ‘hooker’ was coined. Not true, but makes for a good story, especially after a few of beers. Our crawl ended at a karaoke bar called the Wild Beaver Saloon, where Pam rode, but not for very long, the mechanical bull. All our ladies got on stage and sang Don’t Stop Believing – you won’t hear that rendition at the next Grammy’s ceremony.   We then decided we needed to get something in our stomach besides alcohol and found a place, don’t ask me the name of it, at that point I could barely remember my own name, but it had a great upstairs patio that overlooked the Cumberland River and Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. Most of us ordered brisket, which we still hadn’t had yet.  Shortly after we ordered our server returned and told us they were out of brisket. Out of brisket!! That should be a felony in Nashville. We ordered something else, I don’t remember what, I do remember that it wasn’t brisket. After dinner we hit Margaritaville and a few more bars on Broadway, because we clearly hadn’t had enough to drink, and finally made it back to the hotel and crashed. No, now I remember we had to have one more drink at the hotel – thank goodness the bar was still open!

As a switch, the bull slings Pam

Sunday – Up at the crack of 10:30 – 11:00 and met a friend of Patrick’s and his family for breakfast at the Southern. Yes, Patrick has a friend everywhere; this is the same Patrick who ran into someone he knew when we were in Kathmandu, Nepal! There was a slight sprinkle after breakfast, but not enough to keep Linda and me from doing one last lap around Broadway. We walked up to Printer’s Alley, which at the beginning of the 1900s was home to a thriving printing industry, with two large newspapers, 10 print shops and 13 publishers, and by the ‘40s it was the hub of the nightclub scene in Nashville, but now it’s pretty quiet.

Having finished a big breakfast an hour or so ago, Linda asks if I still want to get some brisket; we agreed that if we could find it somewhere before we leave, we’d have to force it down. She recalled the name of a spot that was recommended to her, called Martin’s BBQ Place.   We find it and there is a long line to get in. We say we are just going in to look around – which we were, honest, and squeezed by everyone in line and once inside climbed the stair to an upstairs patio and bar, which was not very crowded. We ask the bartender if we could order a brisket here, he says yes, so we waited for our brisket and ordered a beer from their interesting selection – Hog Wash and A Beer Named Sue to name a frew. After a four-day search, we finally got our brisket. It was delicious!!! We saved some and brought it back to Patrick and Pam, with whom we were flying home.

Nashville Travel Recommendations: If you’re over 40, absolutely get to the Grand Ole Opry for a radio show, cruise Broadway during the day, forget about the diet you’re on and have brisket early and often.

Nashville – Thursday & Friday

by Bob Sparrow

Nashville’s Broadway

Preface – Yes, I know I wrote a story a couple of years ago about going to Nashville, but it was really Linda and Dana who went and I wrote about it vicariously. And OK yes, my last blog was about a hot air balloon ride that I never took, but I really did go to Nashville this time . . . honest! Linda and I went with three other neighborhood couples, Patrick & Pam, Mike & Tanis and Bob & Jeanne, and had a ball.

Thursday – A direct flight from L.A. to Nashville got us into town with time enough to check into our hotel and get to the Predator-Duck hockey game which was at nearby Bridgestone Arena. The Ducks, who were hot, having won 7 of their last 10 games, ran into a Predator buzz saw that had won 8 games in a row. Make it 9 – they handily beat the Ducks 4-2. The most impressive part of the evening was the Predator fans – they were the most involved fans I’ve ever seen. After the Predators scored a goal they would all chant in unison, “Gibson (Ducks’ goalie), you suck, you suck, you suck, it was all your fault!” After the Ducks scored, you could hear a pin drop in the arena. After the game it was just a block’s walk to Music City’s main street, Broadway. One of the first things you notice here is construction cranes on every block, scaffolding on many building and sidewalks torn up – this city is growing in leaps and bounds.

In front of Grand Ole Opry

We stayed out for a couple of hours moving from bar to bar, each with a different singing group playing. To be honest, if this would have been my only exposure to Nashville, I would have

gone home disappointed, as the music was very loud (all electric, no acoustical guitar) and mostly commercial rock, not country, with wall-to-wall people in every bar, difficult to get a drink (that was over-priced) and impossible to find a place to sit down.

At the end of the evening we walked the four blocks back to our hotel and were spared the rain that was predicted, but it was bit of a chilly evening, getting down to 28 degrees. I went to bed hoping that tomorrow would be a better day – it was!

Friday – We walked a few blocks from the hotel and found a great southern breakfast place, Milk & Honey replete with Chicken & Waffles and Hodgepodge – a mix of . . . quite honestly I don’t remember everything that was in it but it was really good!

After breakfast we waddled back to Broadway and 2nd Avenue, where I found the Nashville I was looking for – acoustic guitars, songs where you could understand the words and groups with tight harmonies. Yes, music in Music City starts with live bands right after breakfast!  I was particularly impressed with two bands, both of which had female singers who played the fiddle and sang great harmony. That’s more like it!!!

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a good brisket for lunch, we headed out of town to the Grand Ole Opry. It used to be located right downtown in the Ryman Auditorium, in fact the Opry was there from 1943 to 1974 when it was decided it needed a bigger room with better parking, so it’s now about 20 minutes out of town. We booked a ‘Back Stage Tour’, which included a look at all the dressing rooms and pictures on the wall that tell the history of the Opry. It is quite a magical place. We all got to go on the stage and as you can see in the photo, I was given a special accommodation. OK, that’s bullshit, but everything else is true. After the tour we walked next door to the fabulous Gaylord Hotel; if you’ve ever been to any of the four Gaylord Hotels in the U.S. you know they are extravagantly fabulous, with a huge atrium in the center with a river running through it. We had dinner at the Jack Daniels Restaurant and felt obligated to order some Jack Daniels – just to try to fit in. Still no brisket, but a very tasty smoked prime rib! After dinner we walked back to the Grand Ole Opry for the Friday night radio show.

Darci Lynne

A radio show is broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry every Friday, Saturday and Tuesday night, it originated in 1925 as a one-hour radio ‘barn dance’ broadcast on WSM. You can still hear Friday’s and Saturday’s show on Sirius XM radio Channel 59 Willie’s Roadhouse. This night there were a total of 11 acts each singing 2-3 songs, featuring The Oakridge Boys, Riders in the Sky and Darci Lynne, the 13 year old ventriloquist who won America’s Got Talent last year, making her Opry debut. Of the 11 acts some had hits on today’s charts and some were from the country Jurassic period, but all were good. There was also a comedian Gary Mule Deer – hilarious!! Look him up on YouTube.

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday on Thursday

HE AIN’T DANISH, HE’S MY BROTHER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Some of you long-time subscribers know that I am unofficially the Sparrow family historian.  Or maybe I’m officially the historian because I’m the only one geeky enough to research this stuff.  I don’t know whether my interest is due to my love of history or simply having too much time on my hands.  Whichever it is, I find out something new whenever I search Ancestry.  Last month I discovered that that the daughter our grandfather had with his first wife turned out to be an international woman of mystery.  More on that another time after I’ve found more information.  And, true to form, what I can’t find in fact I’ll make up.  As the Irish say, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  I’ve actually been studying a lot about the Irish lately because next month I will be going to Ireland for nine days with four friends on a sightseeing and knitting adventure.  I’ve even learned the national anthem of Ireland in hopes that I can whip that out at a local pub.  As I say, I’m trying to learn as much as possible before I go, not only about the country but about our Irish ancestors.

 

One of our second cousins has done marvelous ancestry work on my dad’s side of the family so I know that we have at least three relatives who came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1800’s.   Digging a little deeper, I found that my great-great grandmother left Tralee in 1854 on the ship Theodore.  It was somewhat of an ill-fated trip since she ended up being murdered by her cook in 1887.  Some of you may recall my blog about that – it’s a long and sordid story.  But moving along…I’m still attempting to find where the other relatives were from and hopefully I’ll stumble upon something before I leave.  Although we can trace most of our heritage back hundreds  of years, we still have some black holes.  Our mother’s mom, for instance, abandoned our grandfather and our mom when she was three so we know very little about her.  She is the Holy Grail of my ancestry work.  A few weeks ago I got to wondering if maybe she was Irish too – in whole or part – so I decided to do the Ancestry/DNA test.

It’s a pretty simple process – you simply spit into a test tube about five times and ship it off.  Of course, even the simplest test sometimes eludes me so I absentmindedly chewed my calcium pills right before I spit into the tube.  I was horrified to see the pinkish swirls in the tube so I rinsed it out and started over again.  Twice.  I won’t receive the results for a few weeks but I’m afraid they may indicate that I’m part Tums.  I told both of my brothers that I had done the test and that I’d share the results with them so we’d all know our ancestry.  But when I told a friend that, she informed me that brothers and sisters can have different genetic ancestry results.  Well, didn’t I just feel like a complete ignoramus.  The last thing I remember reading about genetics was that brothers and sisters are the closest of all relatives because they share two common parents.  So I set out to research and found a great article on the subject written by a Stanford genetic scientist, Dr. Barry Starr, which I will try to summarize.  If you Google him at “Stanford at the Tech” website you may end up spending hours reading his information and easy-to-understand articles.

Dr. Starr concedes that it’s logical to assume that brothers and sisters should have the same ancestry background since they both got half their DNA from mom and half from dad.  But DNA isn’t passed down from generation to generation in a single block. Not every child gets the same 50% of mom’s DNA and 50% of dad’s DNA, unless they are identical twins.  So it’s possible, really probable, for two siblings to have some big differences in their ancestry at the DNA level. Culturally they may each say they are “1/8th Danish” but at the DNA level, one may have no Danish DNA at all.

What I take away from all this is the impression that our DNA make-up is a bit like a roulette wheel – not all the marbles are going to fall into the same categories.  My test may show a large percentage of Northern European ancestry but with some ringers thrown in just to make things interesting while my brothers…well, who knows what might come up for them.  So what does this mean?  It means that my brothers are going to have to cough up the $69 for their own test.  If nothing else it may prove that we’re really full siblings and mom wasn’t fooling around with the milkman.

 

Hot Air Ballooning – Sunset in Palm Desert

by Bob Sparrow

(After Suzanne’s touching blog last week, I’m again responsible for taking us from the sublime to the ridiculous)

I had never taken a ride in a hot air balloon; no reason, the opportunity had just not presented itself, until last weekend when we were in Palm Desert.

My research uncovered three places in the desert that could facilitate my first balloon ride:

  1. HAVENFUN Hot Air Ballooning in La Quinta
  2. Magical Adventure Balloon Rides also in La Quinta
  3. Balloons Above in Bermuda Dunes

I decided that ‘HAVENFUN’ was not going to be my choice – I want my ballooning people to be very serious about me floating on the breeze thousands of feet above the earth. ‘Magical Adventure’ also didn’t appeal to me as when I think of magic I think of things disappearing and I definitely didn’t want to disappear. So I settled on ‘Balloons Above’ figuring that that is where balloons are supposed to be.

There were also options as to when I could take my first balloon ride, sunrise or sunset. I opted for sunset based on the chilling logic that if my balloon went down in a fiery heap that I’d have had one more day on earth.

The ad for the balloon ride read as follows:

See the sunset over Palm Desert from a hot air balloon – up to 3,500 feet in the air. Hot air ballooning at sunset brings a whole slew of new sensations and sites to see. (The sensation I was feeling wasn’t new at all; it was that old sensation of wanting to throw up)

Your pilot for the day is a seasoned veteran who’s flown countless hours and can almost seemingly control the wind. (Our pilot looks like he was seasoned with Jack Daniels last night. Control the wind? He could barely keep his hands from shaking)

Following your journey of about one hour, you’ll land for a Champagne toast – a common ritual of hot air ballooning that commemorates the wonderful flight. (I think our pilot was still recovering from his Champagne toast from his sunrise trip)

Bring a camera to capture every moment (as it could be your last!).

The preparation for a balloon flight is a bit unnerving; the balloon is lying deflated and lifeless on the ground, I was hoping this wouldn’t be what it looks like when we landed, until they bring over what looks like a ‘flamethrower’ and point it at the balloon and fire at it until it fills the balloon with propane.  My research into propane read as follows: Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but highly volatile. Highly volatile!!!!  I’m amazed that the whole thing doesn’t go up in flames, which to be honest I was secretly hoping for as it would then cancel the ride.

With the balloon fully ‘gassed’ and hoping our pilot wasn’t, I looked at the other people who were climbing into the basket and wondered, ‘Are these the people with whom I will be spending my last minutes on earth?’ My heart was pounding just thinking about floating on the wind in this wicker basket 3,500 feet above the desert floor.

So, what was it really like? I have no idea; although the balloon sites and information above is real, I never got close to a balloon. Balloons have no wings, no motor, no parachutes, you’re being held in the air by what amounts to nothing more than a large fart and you’re at the mercy of the wind.   And the only thing I would know about the pilot with whom I’m entrusting my life to is that he cannot control the wind.  You could take off in Palm Desert and end up in the Sahara Desert for crying out loud!

So I guess the only thing full of hot air was me. Maybe I’ll go someday . . . I’ll keep you posted.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each week I am Dash the Wonder Dog’s Uber driver to work.  The job doesn’t pay much but it has a great perk –  I get to meet a lot of wonderful senior citizens.  I love old people, partly because I’m not too far off myself from soft foods and hearing aids.  Many of the residents in the care center he visits are now well into their 90’s, which means they are part of the much-admired “Greatest Generation”.  I love talking with them about their lives – most of them are so cheerful and love to talk about their life experiences, especially those events that occurred during the “Good War”.  Of course, memories being what they are, I’ve heard a lot of the same stories over the past two years but the recollections are always told with such enthusiasm that it’s easy to be enthralled time and time again.  When Dash first  started his job there were three men who served in WWII.  Last month the last of them, who was my favorite resident, passed away.  Currently, the WWII generation is dying at a rate of 400 per day.  So for today’s post I want to remember the special men Dash and I have met.

General Seth McKee

The oldest, and certainly the most senior of the former military men was Four Star General Seth McKee.  During WWII he held many group and division positions and in November 1944 he assumed command of the 370th Group.  He  served in France, Belgium and Germany, and logged more than 190 hours in 69 combat missions in the P-38 Lightning aircraft.   Over the ensuing years he held increasingly responsible positions until finally, McKee was appointed assistant vice chief of staff, U.S. Air Force. On 1 August 1969 he was named commander in chief of North American Air Defense Command and Continental Air Defense Command (NORAD/CONAD).  So he was quite a guy.  By the time I met him he was 100 years old but was still pretty darn sharp.  I was told that the general had been a dog lover all of his life so I took Dash into his room whenever he was awake.  Shortly before he died I took Dash to visit and put him on the bed.  General McKee petted him and told Dash what a good looking guy he was.   So in addition to being a war hero he liked dogs and thought Dash was handsome – makes him pretty perfect in my book!

Mack Shumate

Mack Shumate made no secret of his WWII service – as soon as you entered his room you couldn’t help but see the huge poster of him and his squadron taken during one of their missions in Europe.  Mack navigated numerous B-24 squadrons during the war and then returned to begin a successful career in the coal industry.  Whenever Dash would visit him, Mack’s aide (a Vietnam vet) would be in the room to attend to his needs.  Usually the aide and I spoke and Mack would give Dash a quick brush of his hand.  But on the final time I saw Mack he was all alone in the room.  I asked if he wanted to pet Dash and he said he did.  Dash laid down and it was the first time I saw Mack really touch him – he had a huge smile on his face the entire time.  He died the next day and I like to think that Dash helped him have one last great experience – petting a dog.

             Bill Hallas

 

The resident I was most fond of was Bill Hallas.  The first time Dash visited him two things became evident – the love for his wife and his pride in his service.  There were pictures of his wife and family – and dog – scattered around the room but the one that intrigued me was one of him with his wife taken during the war, he in his snappy uniform and her in a beautiful outfit with an overnight case in her hand.  I asked him if it was their wedding picture and he told me “No, it’s when we were on our way to a celebration in Miami honoring returning war veterans.”  That said, he whipped around to his nightstand and handed me a list of his WWII missions.  It was impressive – 50 missions all over Europe.  He said, “It was a good time to be 19 and not know any better.”  His bookcase was overflowing with books about WWII and I never walked in his room that he wasn’t reading one.  He also was sharp as a tack, with a great sense of humor.  Due to a paralyzing stroke on one side he pushed himself backwards in his wheelchair everywhere he went.  A few weeks ago I found that he had pushed himself down to the dining room at 10:30 in the morning.  Lunch wasn’t served until noon so I asked him, “Mr. Hallas, are you down here waiting for lunch?”  “Well,” he said, “I sure hope so or I’ve wasted a lot of energy!”

Over the past two years we’ve talked a lot about the war but he always told me something about his family too.  He was so proud of all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – I could tell he must have been a great dad.  But the real connection between us was that we both loved dogs and we shared a birthday.  Last summer Dash brought him chocolate on “our” birthday and he was thrilled.  Shortly after that he installed a huge aquarium in the facility and dedicated it to his wife, who died several years ago and was a big animal lover.  Last month when we visited him he was not in his room, as usual, but out in the common area staring at the aquarium.  That was the last time we saw him.  The next week I came around the corner into his room only to find it empty except for an attendant making up the bed.  I cried that day and cry still when I think of him.

This generation of men, honed by the Depression and the War, are idols to me.  Common, ordinary guys who thought it important to defend their country.  They became the Citizen Soldiers that won the war, and then returned home to build successful lives and communities. I’m not sure we Baby Boomers ever truly appreciated all that they did, quietly and without fanfare.  I worry that the Millennials, who require safe spaces, may not grow up to be quite as admirable.  I hope they do – in their own way and in their own time.  They need look no further that the “Greatest Generation” for inspiration.

 

Capping the Night at Dan Tana’s

By Bob Sparrow

The last leg of our journey into La La Land was Dan Tana’s Italian Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, two doors down from the famous nightclub, the Troubadour.  For those not familiar with the Troubadour, any musician who was anybody in the 60s, 70s and 80s performed there.  In 1970 Neil Diamond introduced Elton John there, who performed his first show in the U.S.  John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were ejected from the club for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers.  The list goes on.

Eagles Glen Frey and Don Henley in Dan Tana’s for ’60 Minutes’ interview

OK, back to Dan Tana’s.  Every entertainer that you know has probably eaten there and many would call it their ‘go to’ restaurant.  For the last 50 years it truly has been a favorite watering hole of Hollywood film industry personalities and professionals.  The walls are adorned with pictures of various stars, past and present.  In 1975 Glen Frey of the Eagles saw a young woman who he knew was married to an older man, having an intimate dinner with a younger man and started writing lyrics on a napkin – those lyrics turned into the Eagles hit, Lyin’ Eyes.  

I was hoping as we entered the restaurant that people wanting to have their picture taken with us would not pester us and ruin our evening.  As it turned out, no one did.  We arrived around 7:00 for our 8:00 reservation and the two small dining rooms, both of which are slightly larger than a walk-in closest, were about half full.  The small bar had everyone of its 10 stools occupied.  Within a few minutes Linda was able to wrangle a seat and soon a couple left, which gave us two much-coveted seats at the bar.  The lady that Linda was sitting next to (whose lips had so much cologen in them that I thought they were going to explode any minute) had a seat on the other side of her that she was saving for her boyfriend, who was over at the Troubadour, checking in on a friend.  She told us her boyfriend was in the “music business” (her quotes, not mine) and was talking with his friends, Hall & Oates who were performing there that night.  A man down the bar, who looked like Fonzi’s father, we were told, was a famous ‘voice over’ performer.  What I could pick up from his conversation was that his voice certainly was over, over-bearing.   But overall a very good LA vibe to the place, meaning that there was a sense that everyone was looking at everyone else wondering if they were ‘someone’.   A gentleman just down the bar asked me if I was Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer.  I said no and later when I look up an image of him online, I realized I should have punched the guy.

You can see I left a nice $2 tip

At 8:00 the maître d came over and told us our table was ready, but the bartender, Raffi, was so entertaining that we said that we’d prefer to eat at the bar, which we did.  We discovered a unique feature of the bar, your wine glass is never allowed to be empty. We each ordered a glass of cabernet (their ‘well’ cab is Francis Coppola) and whenever our wine glass got below half full, Raffi would stop buy and fill it up.  I was afraid to ask how he kept track of how much wine we had and much more afraid to ask how much it was going to cost me.  When we asked Raffi what was good on the menu, he said in a dry tone and a straight face, “Nothing, all the food here is bad and the service is worse.”  But the entertainment was great!  That’s why in the photo you see the fairly significant tip for Raffi – he was most appreciative.  Linda and I ordered the Cannelloni and Veal Parmesan, respectively, both were outstanding, the service was great and the price of our multiple glasses of wine turned out to be surprisingly reasonable. When we left around 9:00 the place was totally packed with standing room only in every place one could stand.  I’m sure some of them were ‘somebody’.  It was a great experience! 

I have to say that while I’m not the biggest fan of L.A., it was a very entertaining day; and while we only saw a very small sampling of it, Johnny’s Eastside Market, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, The Grove, Rodeo Drive and Dan Tana’s, they all got me closer to believing that L.A. is, in fact, the ‘entertainment capital’ of the world.