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THE MYSTERY WORKOUT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

reading on treadmillI’ve never loved exercise.  Gym class in high school was an ordeal, made worse by having to wear a “onesie” that rode up on my rather sizeable thighs.  The wearing of the outfit only got worse as the school week wore on.  By Friday, when we were required to take our gym clothes home for washing, it was so odiferous that it would have repelled a magpie off a sewage truck.  That said, all through my life I’ve endeavored to do some sort of activity to stay in reasonable shape.  And, to be honest, so that I can consume the occasional piece of cake.  After my recent indulgence in Guinness I knew that I had to figure out a way to drop the three pounds I’d gained in Ireland.  It being summer in Arizona, long walks or hiking up the nearby mountain trails was just not an option. Then I came up with a novel idea – reading on the treadmill.

Oh sure, I’ve been reading on a treadmill for almost 25 years – usually either a magazine or whatever novel I was reading at the time.  It became infinitely easier in 2010 when I bought a Kindle, which eliminated the necessity to break the spine of every book just so it could lie flat.  But usually my mind would wander or some tidbit of news on the TV screens up on the gym walls would catch my attention and my workout either slowed down or stopped altogether.  Again, I am not a committed exerciser.  At a friend’s suggestion I tried listening to audio books but that only led me to discover that I might be suffering from a slight case of attention deficit disorder.  Every shiny object diverted me away from the story and by the time I was actually listening again I had completely lost track of the characters and plot.  I find this true of audio books in the car as well.  Every time I get distracted by a three-legged cow or a giant ball of string I completely lose my “place” in the book.

working outIn any event, three weeks ago I once again committed myself to losing weight and eating well.  At the time I was reading a good mystery novel that was hard to put down.  When I began reading it on the treadmill 45 minutes passed without me realizing it.  Maybe I was on to something.  I repeated it again the next day and have now done it every day for the past three weeks.  Since I’ve read most of what’s been written by the most popular authors of the genre I have been seeking out new ones. I love authors who write a series of books with the same protagonist and have found several. For those of you who also like mysteries or want to spend more time on the treadmill the authors are Melinda Leigh,  Scott Pratt, Robert Dugoni and Matthew Fitzsimmons.

I think the secret to the “mystery exercise program” is that I don’t allow myself to read these books except when I’m on the treadmill.  So if I want to find out who murdered Colonel Mustard in the Library I have to haul my butt up to the gym to find out.  And as an unintended consequence, my arms are also getting some exercise these days. When I’m not on the treadmill I’m reading “Hamilton”, the 817 page tome that inspired the Broadway hit. I always buy history books hardbound so the simple act of lifting “Hamilton” has done wonders for my biceps.

I think I’m on to something. I wonder if LAFitness would be interested in a partnership?

Another Side to D.C. – Fractured Fotos

If we didn’t laugh at some of the nonsense coming out of our nation’s capital we’d probably cry, so here’s some photos of our last trip that might at least put a smile on your face.

 

 

We couldn’t have asked for better weather . . . well, we could have, but it wouldn’t have done much good – it rained every day!

 

 

 

This is how close security let me get to the White House

 

 

 

 

This suspicious looking lady was posing as a concierge at our hotel, but after reading the Red Sparrow trilogy I was fairly proficient at spotting Russian spies and she was one.  I let management know of my discovery.  They weren’t amused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orangutang at the National Zoo: “Can you get me out of here?  I think I’d fit right in with the rest of the monkeys in D.C.”

 

 

 

 

 

I’m getting the latest Republican strategy straight from the elephant’s trunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a professional photo of the four of us after we snuck into the Oval Office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Sides of Washington D.C.

by Bob Sparrow

Co-Editor’s note: Yes, I’m still part of the Sparrow-Watson writing team and no, Suzanne did not restrict me from getting near the blog for the last three weeks, it’s just that . . . OK, maybe I was told to stay home and get rid of this virus. As usual I only half-listened, I got rid of the virus, but I didn’t stay home.)

Most of our readers have been to Washington D.C., so telling you about my trip and how cool the Air & Space or Spy Museums were or how I could spend all day in the Natural History Museum is a waste of time, so I’ll tell you about my top four emotional experiences in our nation’s capital and environs.

     1. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Top line, Panel 13 E

To those around my age, the Vietnam War happened when we were in college and the years shortly thereafter, which was a time of great social conflict in our country. So seeing all the names on ‘The Wall’ was a sad reminder of that horrible time in my young adulthood. Suzanne does a great job of honoring fallen soldiers from our hometown of Novato each Memorial Day. Among those honored is Allen Joseph Nelson Jr., who was one of the only people I knew personally who was killed in action in Vietnam. Allen and I played high school football together as well as a year a Marin J.C. I knew his sister, Joanne, who was in my class at Novato, and is no longer with us, but I believe the younger brother, Steve, who was in Suzanne’s class, is.  I would ask that anyone who knows him please pass along to him that I located Allen’s name on the wall (Top line of panel 13E) and said thank you and a silent prayer.

 2. The Holocaust Museum

Confiscated shoes in the Holocaust Museum

First opened in 1993, this museum is relatively new to ‘The Mall’. The tour through it is detailed and emotional. Upon entering you receive a passport-like document of one of the victims of the Holocaust, which traces their country of origin and their life prior to being incarcerated as well as what ‘death camp’ they were in, and the date they died or were freed – it really personalizes the tragedy of it all. The museum is filled with photos, artifacts and videos of events leading up to and through the loss of the war by Germany and the subsequent release of the surviving prisoners from the concentration camps. The exhibit that shows hundreds of victims’ confiscated shoes is particularly gut-wrenching.  While most people are generally familiar with the story of the Holocaust, the museum does an excellent job of bringing home the sheer brutality of this heinous crime against humanity. It still seems incredible that it even took place and how many people it affected and particularly how an entire country could let this happen within their borders.

   3. Gettysburg

Overlooking part of the battlefield at Gettysburg

At the suggestion of a friend, who said that if you’re going to D.C. you need to get up to Gettysburg, we rented a car and made the hour and a half drive to this famous Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania.  The information center there is filled with all kinds of memorabilia and ways to learn about one of the bloodiest and arguably the most pivotal battle of the war.  We chose the in-car CD version which allowed us to stop for as long as we wanted at any particular site.  The battle field, which was much larger than I thought (over 9 square miles) is dotted with over 1,300 memorials, markers and monuments.  Being there and listening to the narration, some stories about brother fighting against brother, gives you a real sense of how and where things were taking place.  In the 3-day battle on July 1-3, 1863, the total of casualties for both armies was approximately 50,000. I was astounded to learn that while we have had approximately 1,264,000 casualties in all of our wars up until now, nearly half, 620,000 were casualties of the Civil War.

     4. Arlington National Cemetery

Changing of the Guard

Just across the Potomac River from The Jefferson Memorial, on property once owned by Robert E. Lee, our national cemetery is a tearfully beautiful place. While the tour through the cemetery talks about all the famous people who are interned there, you cannot help but be struck by the total number of simple gravestones all in a line, “like soldiers at attention”, that are there representing fallen soldiers from every one of our nation’s wars – there are over 400,000 in all buried there. We witnessed a changing of the guard at the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, a classy and somber ritual that occurs every half hour this time of year. The grounds offer  hundreds of amazing stories that go with the brave service men and women who make this their final resting place.

While we really didn’t appreciate the rain that fell everyday we were in Washington D.C. and Gettysburg, it seemed to particularly lend itself to the atmosphere of these four historic landmarks that reminded us that our freedom is not free.

Thursday: A few photos to finish our visit to the capital

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2018)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys from my high school who died in the Vietnam war. After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their home towns – or worse – their families. So this weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict.

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So on my trip to Washington D.C. last month I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”. To refresh my memory I pulled out my high school year books and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so shortly after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see a color television. I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50 year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

 

Robert Johnson

Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give them both something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

 

 

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah, also attended NHS. Mike was very smart and participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He lead by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January, 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed and I thank you for not forgetting.”

 

 

 

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July, 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for 16 year-old kids to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day and face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966 was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin

Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team and very active in school clubs. His brother, Dennis, and I were in school plays together and my mom and his mom, Molly, were friends. Jim was well-liked by everyone who knew him. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited. (Update 2018: to read about a wonderful tribute paid to Jim this past March on the date of his death you can read my post about it here: http://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111 )

 

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January, 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

 

Jerry Sims

Update from 2017: In April, 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS I assumed Jerry was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he nevertheless was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 13, 1968 he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

 

A Kingston Trio memento

I found all of the boys from Novato on “The Wall”, each name etched in granite. I thought about all of their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow had been replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album (pictured left), along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without him. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours

CASTLES, CUISINE, AND A CAUTION

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

muckross

Muckross House

All good things must come to an end, as some wise person once said.  But that doesn’t mean that they can’t come to an end in style.  As we departed Killarney we headed off to Dromoland Castle, where we planned to live like the princesses we are on our final night in Ireland.  Dromoland, however, was not the only castle that we saw on our trip.  In fact, like most countries that have a long history, Ireland is full of castles.  Most of them are ruins and we saw many instances of crumbling rock.  But there were a few exceptions worth noting.  First off, is Muckross House, which technically is not a castle but did house Queen Victoria for a couple of nights in 1861.  It has spectacular grounds and gardens, sitting right on the lakes of Killarney.  Our guide, Jack told us that in the late 1850’s the owner of Muckross House, Henry Arthur Herbert, spent a fortune prepping the house for Queen Victoria’s visit on the implied agreement that he would receive a Dukedom for his efforts.  Unfortunately, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, died just three months after her visit and she forgot entirely about Herbert.  By 1897 the estate was in financial ruin that is partially attributed to the money spent on the Queen’s visit.  I guess even then it paid to get things in writing.

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Bunratty Castle

On our way to Dromoland we stopped at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.  The ‘folk park’ part of the title should have been our first clue that the fine people at Bunratty have figured out how to make a buck.  I wonder if they’re Americans?  The original castle was built in 1277 but the structure that still stands is a relative newcomer, erected in 1455.  It is said that William Penn‘s father defended the garrison in 1646 as William lay in his crib inside the fortress.  Who knows where Pennsylvania would be today if his father had been defeated?  The folk part consists of many structures that were chosen from many different areas of Ireland to form a collection of typical 19th century buildings including the School, Doctor’s house, Pub, Printworks, Grocery, etc.  It was enlightening to see how primitively they lived – two rooms for a large family with more room for the horses than the children set aside within the house.  The gift shop at Bunratty is a money-maker – really one of the nicest gift shops we saw so we all were calculating just how much more we could squeeze into our suitcases.

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The bar at Dromoland Castle

Finally we arrived at Dromoland Castle, our lodging for the night.  The castle grounds have been the home of castles for centuries but the current structure was built in 1800.  It has been preserved with little change since the mid-19th century. In 1962, Donough O’Brien, the sixteenth Baron Inchiquin, sold Dromoland Castle to American Bernard P. McDonough who converted it into a luxurious hotel.  The luscious green gardens and golf course line the entry and we looked forward to exploring the pathways that meander throughout the property.

Dromoland dinner

The Last Supper

Unfortunately our Irish luck on weather that had blessed us all week let us down – it was pouring rain.  The weather, coupled with the fact that our room wasn’t ready, led us to repair to the lounge where they provided us with coffee and pastries.  Once settled into our beautiful room we hoped for sunnier skies but, alas, it was still raining so…what’s a girl to do? We checked out the bar.  It was everything an elegant bar should be and was the perfect setting on a gloomy day to continue our lager/Irish whiskey taste testing.  Dinner was in the Earl of Thomand dining room, again elegant and intimate with service beyond compare and delectable food.  What a way to end the trip of a lifetime – beautiful scenery, wonderful cuisine and lasting friendships.

The next day we left for the Shannon airport at 6 a.m. and from there flew to London.  Twenty-one and a half hours later I was greeted at my front door by Dash the Wonder Dog.  Ireland was great, but so was coming home.

I know several people going to Ireland this year so in the spirit of sharing, here are my recommendations:

The Killarney Park Hotel:  This hotel is the only five-star hotel in Killarney and it’s easy to see how they gained their reputation.  The friendliness of the staff is beyond any I’ve ever experienced.  By our second day there they knew us by name and always went out of their way to help us.  The food and grounds are also magnificent.  You cannot go wrong at this hotel.

Killarney Tour and Taxi:  Jack Hayden is the owner of this business and his five stars on Trip Advisor are well deserved.  He is humorous, knowledgeable and a native of Kerry so he really knows his stuff.  He figured out very quickly that we did not want to see every church and cliff so he would slow down, we’d open a window, snap a photo, and off we went.  At times he insisted that we visit some historical sites and afterwards we were always glad he had. Besides his knowledge and humor, how can you go wrong with a guy who played “Red Solo Cup” so we could sing along?

Guerin’s Path to Cliff Walk:  As mentioned in my first Ireland post, Martin Guerin is a farmer who owns land that includes the visitors path at the Cliffs of Mohr.  Read my first post to learn more about it, but all I can say is his personal tour beats the Visitor’s Center hands down.

The Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder and Sheehan’s Pub are both terrific places to visit.  If you are lucky enough to be in Sheehan’s on a Saturday night you will most likely experience several “hen parties”, which only add to the experience.  Irish people are friendly and like to drag us into their shenanigans!

Mobile Passport App:   We were advised by our travel agent to download the app and it was some of the best advice we got.  We had pre-loaded it with our passport information and once we were taxiing to the gate in Phoenix we activated the passport clearance feature and we were through Passport Control in less than a minute.  It also came in handy as we passed the Gestapo agent at customs.

Diet:  Okay, not really a recommendation but more of a caution.  I was horrified when I got on the scale the day after my return.  Unfortunately, my eating and drinking in Ireland closely resembled the hog we saw at Bunratty Castle.  Oh well, I’ve got all summer to work the Guinness off my thighs.

IRISH DREAMS – PART TWO

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Carol Feller and her Groupies

Carol Feller and Groupies

Our visit to Ireland made clear why Irish eyes are smiling – friendly people, a pint of Guinness and perhaps a tot of Jameson’s gives the world a roseate hue.  We experienced all of that during the second part of our trip which focused on knitting – a passion we all share to the point of needing a 12-step program.  After our evening at the Celtic Whiskey Lounge and Sheehan’s Pub we sobered up the next morning for our class with Carol Feller.  As I wrote in my previous post, Carol Feller and Kieran Foley (more on him in a moment) are the equivalent of playing golf with Rory McElroy or Padraig Harrington.  I should note here that the Killarney Park Hotel was truly one of the finest hotels I’ve ever visited.  They are five star not only for their accommodations and food, but for their outstanding service.  On the morning of our class they provided us with a cozy room with a wood-burning fireplace and brought coffee for our enjoyment – all free of charge.   Carol spent more than three hours with us and was not only informative, but charming as well.  It seems to be an Irish trait.  Most of us have been knitting for decades but Carol provided us with some new tips and techniques, proving that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Some of our group had pre-ordered yarn from her while others said they would abstain.  After three hours with Carol everyone ordered mounds of yarn.  So much for willpower.

            The Dingle Peninsula

The following day we climbed into Jack’s van and embarked on a tour of the Dingle Peninsula.   The scenery, like everything else we’d seen in Ireland, was spectacular. The little town of Dingle is touristy and quaint at the same time.  It was here we experienced more Irish hospitality.  One member of our group stumbled and skinned her knee so we sought out first aid materials.  The local pharmacist didn’t just sell us the bandage and antibiotic ointment, she took it upon herself to clean and dress the wound herself.  Heck, I can barely get the staff at my local Walgreens to point me to the bandaid aisle. The waters surrounding the peninsula are crystal clear and the hillsides verdant, as one would expect in Ireland.  We had the opportunity to stop and pet some newly-minted lambs but, cute as they were, we declined.  I was struck by the many historical churches that remain along the route.  One is the Gallarus Oratory, a simple dry-stone structure built in the 12th century that  has remained waterproof and in near-perfect condition to the present day.

     Kilmaekeder Church and graveyard

Just as interesting is the Kilmaekeder Church, built in the mid-12th century on the grounds of a previous structure built in 636.  A stone from that period still sits on the alter.  The church grounds are filled with gravestones, some ancient and some rather recent (in fact one poor sod hadn’t actually been buried 6 feet under yet as the family was waiting for the headstone).  There were tributes to Irishmen killed by the English during The Uprising as well as markers for whole families that included listings of those who went to America and were lost at sea.  Once back in Killarney we traipsed over to dinner at the Ross Hotel’s Lane Café Bar.  The service was slow but the food was delicious.  I’d recommend it if you’re not in a hurry.

                  Us with Kieran Foley

The following day was our “marathon” day to Dublin.  The kind people at the hotel had a bag of pastries and fruit waiting for us as we left for the train station at 6:10 a.m.  The train service to and from Dublin was wonderful – clean, fast, and quiet.  Once in Dublin we headed for The Constant Knitter shop where we had a private trunk show with designer Kieran Foley.  Again, he was as kind and generous a person as one could hope to meet.  Are there any crabby people in Ireland????  Kieran brought out an array of his designs which are so complicated and intricate that I’d only contemplate starting one prior to entering the insane asylum.  Each piece is reminiscent of an Oriental carpet or fine piece of fabric.  We left him inspired to “up our game”.

After buying scads of yarn we we went in search of a great spot for lunch…and beer.  We ventured up to the Temple Bar area of Dublin (the featured picture this week) which is a hopping place, full of tourists and locals alike.  There is no end to the dining possibilities but we chose Boxty, which received rave reviews on Trip Advisor.  Once we were sated with Smithwicks lager and fish and chips we ventured to This Is Knit yarn shop. The store is elegant in design and content, located in the Powerscourt Townhouse building, a former mansion that has been transformed into a fabulous shopping center with a central atrium and boutique shops.  We bought more yarn, despite our resolve to be on a “yarn diet”.  From there we walked 40 minutes back to the train station for our return to Killarney.  When we dragged into the hotel at 8:30 p.m. we were greeted by hotel staff inquiring about our day and asking us about what we saw in Dublin.  I’m not sure they are used to anyone making Dublin into a “day trip”.

           We can smell the banana

Morning came too soon when we once again traveled in Jack’s van to Kinsale and Cork.  Kinsale is a darling seaside village, filled with cute shops and an outdoor market.  We could have spent several days there. We ambled in and out of the stores, buying knick knacks and two people bought beautiful leather purses fashioned by a local designer.  We relied on Trip Advisor again and ate lunch at Fishy Fishy, where we continued our quest of the perfect pairing of lager and fish and chips. Next we headed to Cork to visit Hedgehog Fibers.  Hedgehog is a very popular yarn, more so in the States than in Ireland.  In fact, we learned from all our Irish knitting contacts that the Irish like to spend money on food and drink, but not on yarn.  We bought MORE yarn (by now we were contemplating buying extra luggage) and then headed out to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.  We decided to go for broke, splurging on the premium whiskey tasting.  It turned out to be a wise decision.   We were taken to a private room where a young woman gave us the particulars of each whiskey we sampled.  I was tempted to chug one down but she instructed me that I needed to savor the banana, oak, berry, vanilla, honey, etc.  Geez, it all just tasted like whiskey to me.  I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to taste premium whiskey.  As we finished up she kind of chuckled and said, “I’ve worked here four years and have never had an all-woman group before.”  So…I guess we broke the glass ceiling for whiskey tasting!

Next week – castles and some final recommendations.  Slainte!

The Quarantine Has Ended – Come Back!

by Bob Sparrow

It’s not often I ask for your help, but I need it now. I understood your lack of interest in my King Tut blog – he was a whinny, spoiled millennial (just from a different millennium), but when the ‘hits’ for Suzanne’s adventure in Ireland dropped off like a prom dress, I knew something was amiss. I then heard from a friend who said that when he tried to open our blog he was told that if he opened it he would contract the Zeus virus. “Oh no!” I said, not having the foggiest idea of what a Zeus virus was. All I knew was that Suzanne was in Ireland and has left me in charge of our blog website, and I’ve somehow let them post a sign on our blog’s front door that read: VIRUS, KEEP AWAY – ‘QUARANTINED’.

This is just great.   Fortunately for me, Suzanne had discovered Guinness beer while in Ireland and after explaining to her that we had a virus that’s shutting down our website, blocking our blog and ending our writing career, such as it is, she texted me back with, and I quote, “I’m in the Killarney Park Hotel bar and don’t give a shit about the blog.” That wasn’t Suzanne talking, that was the Guinness talking.

Nevertheless, I immediately leaped into action – OK, ‘leaping into action’ may be a bit of an overstatement; I actually just sat there dumbfounded and wondered ‘what the hell is a virus and how did we get it?’ I try to wash my hands every time after I go to the bathroom.   I felt certain that Google would have an answer for me, so I took a deep dive into polymorphic, multipartite and F.A.T. viruses – I was almost certain I had that FAT thing, but I digress. I was more confused than ever after my journey through Google’s virus explanation and asked myself, ‘what if I find out that we have the dreadful ‘Storm Worm’ virus, that Windows Trojan horse that forms the Storm Botnet?!!! I could be on a ten-foot ladder and that stuff would still go over my head. I needed professional help; OK that’s another story, but I mean I needed some tech help. Who do you call? Do I contact Facebook, where our blog appears? Or do I contact WordPress, who is the publishing platform? Or do I contact GoDaddy, where we got our domain name and is the website host? Or do I just look for some ‘cookies’ and forget about the whole thing?

GoDaddy was the only one I could ‘call’, the rest wanted me to send an email and wait for a reply. I had a virus and I needed some immediate attention! As it turns out GoDaddy had a solution, for a small fee, they would scan for malware, adware, spyware and underwear, I think. OK, perhaps I don’t completely understand all that went on and how we got the virus and how it was fixed, but we are now virus-free and encouraging you all to tune into Part II of Suzanne’s Ireland trip next week. I will let her know that everything here ran like clockwork in her absence.

Also, just as a precaution, don’t forget to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.

IRISH DREAMS – PART ONE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

A beautiful start!

”Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking.  I apologize for the late departure but this aircraft came from London and we’re missing one of the engines”.  MISSING AN ENGINE???   How do you misplace an engine? This was not the start to our Ireland trip that I had imagined.  But apparently it was “only” the tail engine so across the Atlantic we went.  Of course, I didn’t sleep a wink, despite the lovely bed and a rather good glass of red wine.  While my fellow slackers in the upper deck slept, I was on alert all night trying to detect further engine issues.  At last, after too many hours to count and a second flight from London to Shannon, we arrived just in time for the spectacular sunset pictured (left).  As we stopped to take the photo a Irishman commented, “Oh, that’s a good omen for your holiday.”  And so our wonderful time in Ireland began.

Martin Guerin

Jack, our tour guide for the week picked us up the next morning for a drive to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher.  In my previous post I spoke about Jack and the rave reviews he receives on Trip Advisor and this first outing proved why his reputation is so good.  Rather than taking us to the Cliffs’ visitor center, filled with SIXTEEN tour buses and too many cars to count, he escorted us onto a private drive and introduced us to Martin Guerin.  Martin and his family have farmed their land adjacent to the Cliffs for generations but have just recently started their touring business, Guerins Path (http://www.guerinspath.com/).

Martin’s photo of us on his property at the Cliffs

There are several benefits to viewing the Cliffs with Martin.  The first is Martin himself, who is as charming and knowledgeable a person as one could hope to find.  He gave us great insight into the history of the local area, including the legends of the Lost City of Atlantis and Hag’s Head, as well as describing the unique Liscannor stone that the region is famous for.  Second is that he has given right of way to the visitor center for the path along the Cliffs, but he still owns it.  So walking up the trail on his farm one ends up at the most spectacular spot on the whole of the Cliffs.  It would be a 20 minute uphill walk from the visitor center to get to this spot. The third benefit is that if the weather is inclement or someone in your party is unable to walk up the trail, he can drive right up to the path.  I can’t recommend him highly enough so if you’re planning on visiting the Cliffs of Moher, avoid the throngs of camera-clicking tourists and arrange a tour with Martin.  You will thank me for it, trust me.

After visiting the Cliffs we were ready for some lunch and once again, Jack proved his worth.  As we drove into the cute town of Doolin, we passed several bus loads of people lined up at restaurants.  Jack drove us a few blocks further where we lunched with locals at McDermott’s Pub.  The food was delicious and plentiful and it was here that I learned my travel mates love beer.  I tried Guinness for the first time and fell in love with its dark, smoky flavor.  I did recall someone told me that there were as many carbs in a pint of dark stout as a whole loaf of bread but I chose to chalk that up to an old wive’s tale.

The Kerry Woolen Mill

Saturday morning Jack took us on a tour of the Ring of Kerry.  Knowing his audience, he first stopped at the Kerry Woolen Mills, who have been spinning yarns for over 300 years and are one of two remaining woolen mills in Ireland.  We loved the tour, which took us from the raw shearing to beautiful cones of yarn.  They do custom weaving here as well and each piece was a work of art.

Jack finally dragged us away from the yarn and we continued the tour.  The scenery around the Ring of Kerry is spectacular, which is why it is such a popular tourist attraction.  There is nothing like it in the world.  We stopped for lunch – and more Guinness – and viewed the Skelligs Islands, which were featured in the last Star Wars movie.  The highlight of the afternoon was a stop at the Skelligs Chocolate factory where we felt it only polite to sample and purchase their wares.

Finally, back in Killarney we cleaned up and then walked to the Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder for dinner.  It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made – great food, great whiskey and beer sampling, and good people watching.  And then on the way home, we just happened to stumble into Sheehan’s Pub where an Irish group was playing and the crowd of locals was welcoming.  We sang and laughed with abandon for an hour.

Finally back at our hotel I had one thought: It should be illegal to have this much fun.

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?