Polo Anyone?

by Bob Sparrow

  I’ll tell you about my trip to the desert two weekends ago to watch the polo matches, but if you’re not staying where we did, the home of the greatest host and hostess on the planet, Walter & Patty Schwartz, you’re not going to have nearly as good a time as we did.  The ‘we’ is Jack & JJ Budd, Chuck & Linda Sager and Linda & me.  The six of us were invited by the Schwarz’s to stay in their beautiful, magnificently-decorated home in the gate-guarded community of ‘The Polo Club’ in Indio for the weekend, to attend the polo matches on Sunday at the Empire Polo Club.

We arrived Saturday afternoon and were warmly greeted by the Schwartz’s.  Walt is an interesting and engaging guy, who plays straight-man to Patty’s razor-sharp, dead-pan humor; they kept us fed, watered, entertained and in stitches the whole weekend.

We arrived on Saturday at ‘Happy Hour’, although I’m thinking that every hour is happy in this place.  I’m telling you, the Ritz doesn’t have this kind of food and beverage spread; we saw plate-full after plate-full of delicious appetizers everywhere we looked.  Walt was offering us any and every drink possible, while Patty, who is an amazing cook, was preparing the most interesting and tasty meatloaf I’ve ever had.  I took an oath not to say what was in it, truth is I don’t know, but it was delicious.

Getting ready to stomp divots

I know so little about polo that I rushed for a good seat by the pool.  But in fact the matches, on Sunday, were on the magnificent ground where Stage Coach and  the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place each year.

On this day we were going to see two matches, the USPA (United States Polo Association) Amateur Cup Finals and the USPA Presidents Cup Finals.  The festivities started with the Player Parade and Salute with a horse and rider racing around the polo field, which is about 300 yard long and 160 yards wide, streaming an American flag as the Star Spangled Banner was sung by someone with an amazing voice.

Tack Room Tavern

I could bore you with polo positions like Hustler and Pivot or the number of chukkers in a game or why even left-handers have to play right-handed, but I think I’ll bore you with some other little known and less cared about facts.  There are four players on each team and they wear the numbers 1,2,3 and 4 – always!  Did you know that they do not use the end of the ‘mallet’ to hit the ball, as you would in croquet, but rather use the sides of the mallet?   Polo horses are very highly skilled, high-speed Thoroughbreds, whose manes are clipped off and whose tails are braided in order to keep them out of the way of the mallet.  OK, enough, but one of the more interesting parts of a polo match is halftime, when flutes of champagne are provided for all the fans to grab and go out onto the field to stomp divots.  Who won?  Beats me – the red and white team won the first game, the team in the dark jerseys won the second, I think, we left early to get a good seat at the Tack Room Tavern, a great place for food and drink not far from the field.

Ho, Zellweger and Phoenix

Sunday evening was back at the ‘Schwartz Chalet’ for more food and drink and to watch the Academy Awards on their 700 inch TV, at least it seemed that big, although I may have been sitting fairly close.  While I didn’t need a lecture on life from actors Joaquin Phoenix or Renée Zellweger, I think it might have been fun to have gone “drinking until morning” with Parasite director, Bong Joon Ho.

A big THANK YOU to Walt and Patty for a most enjoyable weekend.

Post Script: A few days after returning home, I received an hermetically-sealed envelope from Patty with a note that read, “Laundering fees are yet to be determined” – it was a pair of my underwear.  Not sure where I left them, but our super hostess made sure I got them back . . .  cleaner than I left them!

 

 

THE CORONA VIRUS BLUES

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

News about the corona virus gets scarier by the day.  More cases, more deaths and more quarantined people.  The experts are saying that warmer weather in the Spring should contain the virus but, Puxatony Phil aside, we’re still several weeks away from cherry blossoms and daffodils.  I know people here in Scottsdale that didn’t go to the Phoenix Open for fear of contracting the disease given the massive crowds.  Personally, I think there is enough alcohol consumed at the event that germs don’t stand a chance of surviving.  Still…you never know where it might appear.

 

As a bona fide germaphobe I have to admit that I’m a bit extra cautious these days – there is an epidemic of the regular flu going around that has made people sick for weeks.  I keep a container of Purell in the door pocket of my car so that I can wipe it on my hands whenever I’ve touched anything in public.  I grab an antiseptic wipe when I enter the grocery store, not only to wipe down the cart handle, but also to cover my finger with it when I punch in my phone number at the check-out counter.  I’d rather have my kidneys explode than touch a door handle in a public restroom.  I don’t even use the pen they provide in a restaurant or doctor’s office to sign anything – I have my own pen at the ready, sterilized and untouched by the masses.  More and more I frequent places where I can use my Apple Pay so I don’t have to touch anything.  Okay, I know that I can be a bit over the top.  At Walgreen’s the other day a woman in front of me was watery-eyed and coughing into her hand, and then used  the keypad to punch in her number as she paid her bill.  As I approached the counter the clerk asked me brightly if I would like to put my number in.  That garnered her my five minute rant questioning how a drug store that is full of sick people with the latest flu, asks people to put their hands on something that those same sick people have touched.  She told me that they do wipe down the keypads several times a day.  I rolled my eyes.  Clearly the powers that be at Walgreen’s need to teach their employees about how germs get spread.  Maybe I could consult.

In any event, I think most people agree that avoiding the flu, and particularly the corona virus, requires a good immune system.  Eating berries of any sort is highly recommended and in particular the elderberry.  At first I thought that might be a berry for old people but, turns out, it’s been the basis of moonshine and cough syrup for generations.  It was even featured in the movie Arsenic and Old Lace where the aunts used it in their deadly pursuits.  Aunt Martha gave the recipe: “For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.”  Hmmmm…that might be going a bit too far.  A friend recently went to Mexico and her doctor told her to chug Elderberry Syrup before, during, and after her trip.  A few of her travel companions had the flu but my friend sailed through in fine fashion.  I found Sambucol Elderberry Syrup at Costco.  It claims to improve the immune system as well as assist heart health and allergies.  I just started taking it last week but so far I don’t have the flu, haven’t had a heart attack and my allergies actually are better.

I’ll keep you posted.  After all this if I come down with the flu I guess the joke’s on me.  Plus, it could screw up my consulting job at Walgreen’s.

Super Bowl: The Ads, the Half-Time Show, the Bets and Oh Yeah . . . the Game

by Bob Sparrow

The Million Dollar Backfield

Before the Game

I’ve started writing this blog several days before the Super Bowl, so I’m still full of optimism for a team that I’ve rooted for since 1952 when I attended my first 49er game at the old Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park – 49ers lost 20-17 to the Chicago Bears!  Those were the days of the 49ers ‘Million Dollar Backfield’ of Y.A. Tittle, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson, all Hall of Famers today.  The reality is that even though they were know as the ‘Million Dollar Backfield’ their four combined salaries didn’t even add up to a million dollars! As a point of reference, current 49er quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo makes about $1.7 million PER GAME!  While I’ve enjoyed the many Super Bowl years of 49ers past, particularly the two won by my former college coach, George Siefert, it’s been a little lean in terms of wins in recent years; so I’m really looking forward to this game in spite of it being played against, in my opinion, the best player in the game today, Kansas City Chief quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.

I’ve concluded that people watch the Super Bowl for three main reasons: 1) they like football, 2) they are mostly watching the ads (which cost about $5.25 million per 30-second ad) and the half-time show, or 3) they like to bet.  I guess there is a fourth reason, they just like to party, but they are probably not watching much of the game or the ads!  So while I can’t comment now on the game, the ads, the half-time show or the party you attended, I can comment on the betting. OMG!

Mahomes & Garoppolo

Of course you can make the two most common bets, the outcome of the game with odds (giving or getting points) and total points scored (the over-under), but the ‘fun’ bets are called the proposition bets or ‘prop bets’.  Here’s just a few, and even though it’s after the game, you can still pretend to bet on these and see how you’d have done:

  • Will Alex Rodriguez be shown during the halftime show, where fiancee Jennifer Lopez is performing, and how many wardrobe changes will Lopez make?
  • Will Demi Lovato omit any words when singing the National Anthem, and will she perform the anthem in under 2 minutes or over 2 minutes?
  • Will the Golden Gate Bridge be shown at any time during the telecast? (the game is in Miami)
  • Will the coin flip come up heads or tails? (Tip: to date more people have bet on heads, but more money has been bet on tails)  Sorry not much of a tip was it?
  • Will there be more points scored in the 2nd quarter or the 4th quarter?
  • If you are a hockey fan who wants to combine a hockey bet with a Super Bowl bet, you can actually bet if Pittsburgh Penguin players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are going to score more points than the number of times that Mahomes will be sacked. (Answers below)

And so many more!  The estimate of total money on all bets on this Super Bowl is $6.8 billion!

Winning Chief Head Coach Andy Reid

After the Game

Well, as one might suspect from this die-hard Niner fan, I was happy with the game up until the 4th quarter, but then, not so much.  I can take solace in the 49ers loss in that they are a young team, but then again, Mahomes is only 24 years old!

Answers to above bets:  Alex was shown, Lopez had 3 wardrobe changes, Lovato sang all the words to the Anthem in just under 2 minutes, the Golden Gate Bridge was not shown, Coin toss – tails, more points in the 4th quarter, Crosby and Malkin got 2 points and Mahomes was sacked four times.

Wait ’til next year!

ME IN A CAR GETTING DOUGHNUTS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

A few weeks ago I read an article on the CNBC website about Kakeibo.  In case you think that’s a form of sushi, I’ll explain.  Kakeibo roughly translates to “household financial ledger.” Invented in 1904 by a woman named Hani Motoko (notable for being Japan’s first female journalist), kakeibo is a simple, no-frills approach to managing your finances.  In essence, every purchase is made with thoughtfulness.  If you practice it you will ask yourself several questions before buying anything – can I live without it?, can I afford it?, will I really use it?, etc.  That seems like a lot of thought process to go through when buying toilet paper but it’s probably not a bad concept on anything more important…like that new pair of Manolo Blahniks.  I’ve been practicing Ms. Motoko’s approach most of my life.  As a struggling college student and then when I had my first job and apartment, eating a solid diet of bologna sandwiches prepares one for frugality.  Which, in part, is why I seldom buy a new car.

My current car, and Acura MDX, has been showing it’s age.  Not the body or interior – that still looked pretty good.  But the car was 9 years old which, from an electronics standpoint made it something out of the Pleistocene era.  Every six months I would get an offer from Acura asking me if I wanted to update the nav system and I always declined.  After all, I always carry my cell phone so I didn’t see the need.  But my husband convinced me that I really needed a new car if we are going to go on any long trips this summer.  God forbid, we would dirty up his BMW taking it anywhere.  I decided to go back to the Lexus RX SUV, a car I’ve owned twice before.  And here was a contributing factor:  Lexus always has a great lounge with baked goods and coffee.

Our first venture into a dealer was our local one and the car salesman had all the traits of a Randy Quaid character – just the slightest bit sleazy.  His attitude was “we sell a million of these so we don’t care if you buy one.”  So we didn’t.  Then we were lucky enough to have our friend Alfy take my husband to Superstition Springs Lexus to meet with Mark Dent.  I instructed them to find me a silver car (because that’s really the most important thing about a car, right?) and sure enough they came home with a deal.  I would have loved it if they’d just driven it home but nothing is ever that simple.  Turns out I needed to be there to sign all the paperwork so, braced for the worst, over the weekend we made the 45 minute trip to pick up my new car.

Right off I knew I’d like this place because they had a comfy lounge and…wait for it…doughnuts!  Ahhhhhh, that’s when I knew I was back at a Lexus dealer.  Secondly, and probably more important, turns out that Mark Dent is one of the most likable car salesmen I’ve ever met.  He’s actually just a really nice guy, regardless of profession.  He even put the big red bow on my car, which was a fun touch.

A “swift” two and a half hours later we drove off the lot with our new purchase.  We ran into trouble immediately upon entering the freeway because my husband said the steering wheel was shaking.  He was certain that the tires were out of balance.  Turns out, it’s the lane guidance system that alerts you when you’re veering out of your lane.  OMG – I cannot thank Lexus enough for this.  I now can focus on reading or knitting on long car trips, rather than watching for any “drifting” on the part of my driver.

When we got home I made sure that the “captains” chairs configuration in the second row would be suitable for our captain – Dash the Wonder Dog.  After all, any road trip must include comfortable seating for his majesty. As you can see from the photo, he snuggled right in to his new ride.  Last I saw him he was trying to learn the voice control system so he could request pee breaks and dog treats from the back seat.

All in all, it was a great experience and I love the car.  But truth be told, they had me at the doughnuts.

Big Island – Photos & Travel Tips

by Bob Sparrow

Six at sunset

As those who have been there know, landing in Kona at Keahole Airport on the Big Island of Hawaii is like what I imagine it would be like landing at Jurassic Park International Airport while the earth was still cooling.  Black lava dominates the landscape all around the airport and you wonder if there is really any civilization down there.  But indeed, there is.

Linda and I were invited, along with Jack & JJ Budd, to Chuck & Linda Sager’s timeshare at the Hilton Grand Waikoloa.  We arrived at the complex’s tiki bar just in time to watch the second half of the 49er-Viking game.  While the outcome pleased this life-long Niner fan; Linda, a Minnesota native and avid Viking fan, was not that happy, but looking forward to a week in Hawaii seemed to assuage the pain of the loss.

Showing rain everyday, except the day we’re leaving!

Typically, the colors of the Big Island are a mix of azure blue skies reflecting a sea-foam green ocean, contrasting with uneven natural black lava outcroppings against a variety of lush verdant golf courses, but this week Mother Nature had another color in mind . . . gray.  The weather for the week showed rain every day.  It’s no secret why Hawaii is so green!

But we were going to have fun anyway, and as usual, the weatherman was wrong, in fact aside from our first round of golf at Kalani Country Club (previously known as the Big Island Country Club) in a light rain, we never really experienced much precipitation.   Even in the rain, Kalani was one of the most simply beautiful courses I’ve played – because it’s ‘out of the way’ in the mountain and it was raining, hardly anyone was on the course so we played as a six-some – a most enjoyable welcome round to the Big Island.

As a ‘travel blogger’ of sorts, I feel an obligation to share some of the things learned on this trip; so following are a few travel tips.

Kona Country Club

1st Travel tip: Golf – If you come to the Big Island to play golf, forget the expensive ‘named’ courses like Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea (we played those and we all got across the ocean on the beautiful 15th hole at Mauna Lani and the 3rd hole, from the tips, at Mauna Kea: Big deal!) and play Kalani and the Kona Country Club (south of Kona) – great lay-outs, ocean and mountain views, less crowded and much less expensive!

2nd Travel tip: Food – Breakfast was mostly in with all of us enjoying Jack’s smoothies, some delicious bagels, some cheese eggs and some Kona coffee – although we did find some delicious banana pancakes at several locations, which I would recommend.  Lunch was usually late after golf at places like the beach at Mauna Kea Hotel which is looking a little tired these days, Tommy Bahamas in Mauna Lani, or at ‘On The Rocks’ in downtown Kona.  We BBQed a couple dinners at our condo and went to Roy’s for a nice dinner, where we met Wayne Newton.  But the best travel tip on food is making sure that you find the Malasadas truck parked along the main highway and stop and get a Portuguese doughnut or 12.  Eat them while they’re hot, they are delicious!

‘On the Rocks’ Kona

Wayne Newton asking to join the Monday Knights

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Malasadas Truck, where Jack & Chuck found a couple of tomatoes

 

 

 

3rd Travel tip: Entertainment – If you like magic and comedy, you will love the Kona Kozy Magic & Comedy Show in the Mauna Lani shopping center, next to Tommy Bahamas.  It’s a small theater, probably no more than 30 seats; we were six of about 12 people in attendance that night.  He is very funny, he does some great magic and gets the audience engaged.  You can have dinner next door at the Pele Wok restaurant like we did and bring your own alcohol to his show – I think we brought in a case of wine.  A very entertaining evening

Final Travel tip: Drink – If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island in the near future and like wine, you should plan on bringing your own, as we depleted the island of most of its supply while we were there.

No trip to Kona is complete without a visit to the spectacularly gigantic Kona Waikoloa Hilton Hotel, which we visited on our last evening there and watched a beautiful sunset – yes, the weather was clearing up just as we were clearing out.

Sunset on our last night at Waikoloa

A special thanks to Chuck Sager, who knows this island like the back of his hand and was able to get us to all the roads less traveled by most tourists.

 

GEAUX JOE!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

If you’re like 30 million other Americans, you will be watching the College Football Championship game tonight between LSU and Clemson.  It is slated to be one of the most exciting playoff games in recent history – both teams are undefeated and have stand out quarterbacks.  Hopefully it will live up to the expectations.  But aside from the thrill of who will win the Championship, many people have found a different reason to take interest in the game – LSU’s quarterback, Joe Burrow.  In this age of bad-boy athletes where the headlines shout of domestic violence, gun shots, and cheating scandals, Joe Burrow is the soothing balm that reminds us of just how good college sports can be.  This one person, in one night, brought dignity, kindness and generosity to the forefront.  His story bears telling and re-telling.

Joe Burrow hails from one of the most impoverished areas in the United States – southeast Ohio.  His hometown is Athens, a part of Appalachia that has yet to see significant benefit from the soaring stock market and lower unemployment rate.  Joe is a product of the local high school and was heavily recruited upon graduation.  He attended Ohio State, where he red-shirted, obtained his BA in Family Resource Management, and then with two years eligibility remaining, decided to transfer to a school where he could get more playing time.  In May 2018 he signed on with LSU and their charismatic coach, Ed Orgeron.  The rest is history.

Fast forward to December 14, 2019.  Burrow was one of four finalists for the Heisman Trophy and, in a surprise to no one, he not only took home the trophy but did so by a wider margin than any winner in history, securing 93.8 percent of the possible points.   That alone would make him stand out in anyone’s book.  But it’s what he did next that swayed hearts and minds.  In his acceptance speech he not only thanked the usual people – his teammates, parents and coaches (including those from Ohio State), he took the opportunity of being on the big stage to remember those who have not been as fortunate as he.  Mid-way through his speech he said the following: “Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area. The poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot. I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home—not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here too.” He was crying, and I’m guessing anyone watching cried right along with him. It was a thoughtful moment – surely one to make everyone who ever had anything to do with this young man feel proud.  His dad commented the next morning that he received over 500 texts and the overwhelming majority of them congratulated him on Joe’s thoughtfulness, not the piece of hardware he’d won.  But it’s what happened next that highlights the positive impact just one high-profile athlete can have.

The following morning, Sunday, December 15th, Athens High and Ohio grad, Will Drabold, was so moved by Joe’s speech that he decided to set up a fundraiser on Facebook for the all-volunteer Athens County Food Pantry with a goal of $1,000.  By the end of that first day he had collected more than $50,000.  Major media outlets picked up on the story and by Monday morning, the total donations surged to $80,000, which happens to be the annual budget the Food Pantry.  By Tuesday, December 17th, the fund had collected more than $350,000.  Drabold raised the goal to $500,000 – why not shoot for the stars?

On Wednesday, at a local middle school, a teacher played Burrow’s Heisman speech for her students. When they finished watching the speech, she said she saw “a lot of bug eyes, like, Wow, he’s talking about us.” They sat down to write letters to Burrow. One of the boys in the class turned this in:
Dear Joe Burrow,
Thank you for showing me and other children that no matter where you’re from or your life story, if you work hard you can achieve greatness. Also, thank you for giving back to your community. You have inspired me to not be embarrassed by my life story and work hard to achieve my goals. Again, thank you very much.
The student signed his name, and under it wrote: “Just a kid from Southeast Ohio.”

On Friday, December 20th, donations to the food bank were close to $450,000.  Joe Burrow, meanwhile, accepted another token of his hard work and dedication that day – his Masters Degree in Liberal Arts from LSU.    By Sunday the total for the Food Bank topped out at more than $475,00. Karin Bright, president of the food bank’s board, was asked about the affect of the fundraising on the organization – “I truly hope this opens a conversation across the country and we finally address the issues of hunger and food insecurity in this country. We’re better than this. People in this great country should not be going to bed hungry. And for Joe Burrow to put such a personal face on it—his classmates at Athens, he knew, were going hungry. And he remembered that at this momentous time in his life.”  She said the funds that have been raised are a sacred trust, and will ensure that it is allocated with utmost respect for those who gave it.

As of this morning, game day, the total donations are $503,211.  I don’t know who will win the game tonight, but I do know that Joe Burrow has already made more of an impact off the field than on it.  Yes, thousands of people in Athens County will be less hungry this year, but really, all of us have been given a gift from this upstanding young man.  He has lifted our spirits, caused us to remember that the American people are generous and kind.  He provided a shining example of what college athletes can be.  Joe Burrow is not just a kid from southeast Ohio – he is an inspiration to us all.

So for tonight’s game I say, Geaux, Joe!

 

Wine Down to 2020

by Bob Sparrow

(The first part of this blog was accidentally posted last week as I made the first of many errors to come by putting 2019 in place of 2020.  Sorry to those who read the first half, but I encourage you to finish it, you might be surprised at the ending)

South Coast Winery – Temecula

I will drink no more . . . or no less.

I will lose, wait, no I’ll win

I will exercise . . . better judgement about exercising

No, this blog will not be resolutions that will vanish like a dog’s dinner by the end of January or about resolutions at all.  It’s about wine . . . sort of.

In spite of being born and raised just miles from America’s greatest wine region, Napa-Sonoma, I am no oenophile and definitely not a ‘wine snob’, although I will admit to often remarking, “I am too old to drink cheap wine.”  Which is why my trip to the Temecula wine region some 20 years ago was most disappointing – really bad wine.

Temecula Creek Inn

Fast forward to this past New Year’s holiday when a group of neighbors planned a trip to the Temecula wine region.  We would be staying at the Temecula Creek Inn, playing golf there and  . . . wine tasting.  It sounded like fun, except for the wine tasting.  I figured I could bring a couple of bottles of ‘good’ northern California wine and not have to drink the swill from Temecula.

I was not alone in my opinion of Temecula wine; wine experts from all over the world were rating their wines as too sweet, the aromas funky and lacking in complexity and flavors like those found in Napa or even Paso Robles.  In fact, some reviews of the Temecula wines said things like, “flavors that were not all that appealing – they smelled like burning tires or rotting cabbage.”  So the region, which consists of 33,000 acres about 85 miles southeast of Los Angeles, became known for bachelorette limo tasting tours and sub-par wine.

So, if you get invited to go wine tasting in Temecula . . . Go!

Yes, you read that right, go.

Glassy Winged Sharpshooter

Mark my words, as someone who wouldn’t have made the short trip to Temecula to taste wine if they’d sent a limo for me, there has been an amazing turn-around not only in the wine being produced, but in the atmosphere created in the 40+ wineries located there.

How was this dramatic turn-around made?  It’s complicated and includes everything from pH factors to the glassy-winged sharpshooter! The sharpshooter is a bug that was responsible for destroying 40% of the vineyards in the Temecula valley in the 1990s, which made the vintners start all over by solving the pH problem as well as creating proper vine balance and better irrigation practices.  They also planted more Italian, Rhone and Spanish varietals which are better suited to Temecula’s Mediterranean climate.

Balloons over Temecula vineyards

I don’t pretend to know anything about what I just wrote, but I tasted the wine and found my favorites, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Super Tuscany, all very good; Chardonnays and other whites were also very tasty.  It’s not Napa or Paso Robles, but it’s much improved and they’ve done a great job of making the wineries and tasting rooms aesthetically, well, wine country-like .  Additionally, unlike most other wine areas in California, Temecula allows restaurants at its wineries.  The main ‘wine trail’ in Temecula is Rancho California Road where you can find most of the major wineries as well as some beautiful homes in the surrounding hills – it’s really become a pretty classy area.  You can get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of it all via hot air balloons, whose colorful canopies populate the morning Temecula sky.

So the new year for me began with an unexpected pleasant surprise – hopefully a harbinger of things to come for us all this year.

CELEBRATE 2020 – EAT GRAPES, POUR LEAD, DROP A POTATO!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, here we are again, ready to ring out the old and ring in the new.  Personally, I’ll be glad to ring out the old since it did such a good job of ringing me out this year.  But hope springs eternal for 2020.  There is something inherently optimistic about a new year.  This year we also get the double whammy of anticipating a new decade.  To get us in the mood for New Year’s Eve I researched some of the more unique ways people celebrate the new year around the world.  Trust me, after reading about some of the customs you’re going to feel a whole lot better about your stale bottle of champagne and Cheetos.

The 12 Grapes of Luck – In Spain and some Latin American countries, one New Year’s tradition is to eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the coming year, to secure prosperity. Here’s the challenge: you need to eat one grape with each bell strike at midnight. I think this would be a whole lot easier if we could drink our grapes in a nice Chardonnay.  The likelihood of me choking on a grape is quite high with this one.

Pouring Lead – Who doesn’t want to know what the next year might bring? In Germany, people melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle, then pour the liquid into cold water. The bizarre shapes from the lead pouring (or Bleigießen as it’s known) are supposed to reveal what the year ahead will bring. If the lead forms a ball, luck will roll one’s way, while the shape of a crown means wealth; a cross signifies death and a star will bring happiness.  It kind of puts a whole new spin on “get the lead out”.

Scarecrow Burning – In Ecuador, people build scarecrow-like dolls of politicians, pop stars, or other notable figures to set them alight. Burning the año viejo (old year) is meant to destroy all the bad things from the last year and cleanse for the new.  You can see the potential here, right?  Is it possible to build a scarecrow that exactly replicates Washington DC?

Round Food, Round Clothes, Round Everything – In the Philippines, the start of the new year is all about the money. The locals believe that surrounding themselves with round things (to represent coins) will bring money or fortune. As a result, clothes with polka dots are worn and round food is eaten. I think this one is right in my wheelhouse.  After all, cake and cookies are both round.  By this measure I should be Bill Gates by now.

Tossing Furniture – “Out with the old” is the motto in Naples, where people toss everything from toasters to fridges off their balconies. Getting rid of old possessions symbolizes a fresh start in the new year. To prevent serious injuries, most locals stick to small and soft objects for their throwing tradition, though it’s still a good idea to watch your head should you travel there.  Nothing like being hit on the head by a refrigerator to put a cramp in your Italian vacation.

Animal Spirits – Rural Romania is steeped in tradition. New Year’s Eve celebrations include mask dances and ceremonies about death and rebirth. Dancers dress up in furs and wooden masks depicting goats, horses, or bears, then dance from house to house to ward off evil spirits. The dance of the bear is the most popular. According to pre-Christian folklore, if a bear enters somebody’s house, it brings prosperity, health, and good fortune.  Yeah, tell that to all the people at Tahoe who have “entertained” bears in their house.

The Potato Drop – With less tradition but more high-tech, the people of downtown Boise will welcome the new year by dropping a giant spud from the sky. More than 40,000 spectators turn up to see the internally lit, 400-pound “GlowTato.” Frankly, my husband and I love Boise and have been visiting there for more than 30 years.  Lately it has been overrun by Californians escaping the taxes and high housing prices and it has changed dramatically.  I think the Potato Drop is a “jumping the shark” moment for this formerly low-key town.

Personally, I’ll be sitting in front of a fire eating a great dinner and watching the Utah Utes beat the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl.  It may not be exciting but it beats getting hit on the head with a Barcalounger.

Bob and I would like to wish all of our subscribers and readers a very happy and healthy 2020.

 

Christmas – All Quiet on the Western Front . . . for a Day

by Bob Sparrow

In the last three weeks we’ve given you a) some crazy gift ideas, b) some little-known and less care about Christmas’s in other parts of the world and, perhaps most important of all, we’ve given you c) the recipe to Dad’s Christmas Ice Cream Fizz.  Yet, Christmas isn’t here yet, so this week there’s more Christmas stuff that could possibly help get you into the Christmas ‘spirits’.

The Pooper

We’ll start with what I have found to be the  most ridiculous way that Christmas is celebrated. The Catalonia region of Spain (around Barcelona) is known for its somewhat unorthodox wooden toys and statuettes. El Caganer (which would roughly translate as The Pooper) is one of them. A mysterious figure that insists on pooping wherever he’s placed; this dwarfish, leering figure is part of any Christmas stall or arrangement of figurines. He’s even placed in Nativity Scenes. – and they blamed that smell on the cattle in the manger!

Getting a fruitcake this Christmas?  As it turns out, the rumor that there is only one fruitcake in the world and it just keeps getting passed around, is true.  It’s fairly common knowledge that hardly anyone actually enjoys eating this holiday loaf, but because of its great significance in the All American Christmas, each year many hosts are forced to smile falsely and pretend to be elated at receiving this baked good that can crack a kitchen counter top.  This cake, containing all kinds of fruits and nuts, is derived from the British “Christmas Cake” but has roots in Roman times. Perhaps that Roman fruitcake is the one that is still circulating.

There are all kinds of Christmas traditions and stories from all around the world, but the one that is most sensational and heart-warming to me, is the one that took place in Belgium during WWI – the ‘Christmas truce’.

Meeting in ‘No Man’s Land’

On December 24, 1914 it began when German troops began to light candles and sing Christmas carols and the British soldiers would either join in from their own trenches or start singing their own carols.  Then, certainly without permission from high command, a German messenger walked across ‘No Man’s Land’ to broker a temporary cease-fire agreement.  Soon troops from both sides walked bravely onto ‘No Man’s Land’ and met, talked and exchanged food, souvenirs and cigarettes with one another.  They even played a game of football (soccer) which the Germans won 2-0.  It should be noted that the British got revenge when the Germans lost the war.  The British also won the ‘rubber match’ when Germany was defeated in WWII.

While this event was the first of its kind and certainly the most publicized, nearly 100,000 British and German troops participated in a ‘Christmas truce’ that year all along the Western Front.  In fact, there are similar stories of this same thing happening on the Eastern Front.  As expected, the commanders from both sides were not happy with this fraternization and soon put an end to ‘peace on earth, good will towards men’.

It is so sad that the great message in this story seems to have been lost in history.

The entire staff here at ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’ (OK, just Suzanne and me) hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy new year.

JOY TO THE WORLD (WITH A SPLASH OF GIN)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

        A jolly man indeed

 

Christmas is a lot like golf.  We have visions of greatness and perfection but the reality is often closer to a bogey.  Some years maybe even a double bogey.  As we get older the holiday season can be more difficult, remembering those who are no longer with us or who we no longer see.  I think many people become sentimental about Christmases past when life seemed simpler. Personally, when I’m in the midst of the Christmas fray I long for the Christmases of my childhood when all I had to do is show up. No shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning – just act excited about the gifts under the tree.  I say “act” because there were a lot of years when I found my gifts in my mother’s not-so-secret hiding place and knew exactly what I was getting.  Mostly what I miss are the fun family gatherings, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  There are people who are lucky enough to live close to their families, thus avoiding the packing and mailing of gifts and – worse yet – traveling to see loved ones, but they are becoming fewer and farther to find.  I hardly know anyone anymore who doesn’t deal with some sort of hassle or drama around the holidays.

Which is why this is a good time to reflect on those things in which we can take joy and perhaps be a bit kinder to one another.  It’s often said that we never know what problems people have from looking at the outside.  I’m sure we’ve all known people who appear to “have everything” and yet in reality have significant problems.  And that includes the person who cuts in line at the supermarket or honks their horn in traffic.  Maybe they’re just jerks.  Or maybe the holiday season is particularly difficult for them – the loss of a loved one, illness, a lost job – seem magnified right now.  Throw in all that’s going on in the world, and life can become a bit overwhelming. Which is why a little kindness can go a long way in making someone’s day just a bit better.

In my effort to be a bit more kind I don’t have to look far for an example.  Our dad was the kindest man I’ve ever known.  Coupled with his hysterical sense of humor, he was a force to be reckoned with.  He was in his element at Christmas, with his children gathered around him and hosting friends and family.  I miss him all year long but most especially this season.  So in his memory, I once again provide you with his famous Christmas Ice Cream Fizz recipe.  He served it every Christmas morning and it gave a roseate hue to the entire day. We share his recipe in the hopes that it might help you all enjoy the holidays just a bit more.  After all, ice cream and gin – how kind is that?

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes
Add 6 jiggers of gin
Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream
Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg. Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.
Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!
Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg. As we got older we conspired with Pop and ditched the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

Wishing all of our subscribers a very happy holiday season! Cheers!