<

Italy’s Hilltops & Coastlines

by Bob Sparrow

Funicular

The dinner I had to rush off to after I posted on Thursday required us to walk about a mile and a half to the base of a funicular, which took us to the top of the mountain, via a nearly 40 degree climb, where sits the quaint little village of Montecatini Alto.  We had another perfect weather day so we could see for miles and miles – no foul weather gear needed here.  Just prior to sunset we walked the perimeter of the village taking in the spectacular views in every directions.  We then settled in at a bar (What a surprise!) on the town square and enjoyed a few cocktails before we moved next door where we had made dinner reservations.  We were seated on the patio on a beautiful evening, and while we were virtually alone at the restaurant at 7:30, when we left around 10:30 the place was packed.  We still haven’t adjusted to the late dining habits of the Italians.  With all the pasta I’d been eating for the last week, I decided to order a steak – it was delicious.

San Gimignano

Thursday morning we were back on the bus at 8:30, headed for the walled medieval town of San Gimignano.  Normally an hour and a half bus ride would not be very interesting, but Sergio did another ‘stand up’ routine about American TV shows, his comment about Murder She Wrote was something like, “If Angela Lansbury invites you to dinner, DON”T GO, someone is going to get murdered and it could be you!” He had us rolling in the aisles!  Before we hit this Tuscan city, we visited a cheese farm where we were given a tour by the owner, met the cows and goats and enjoyed some great cheeses.

Italian gelato

While wandering through town we found the award winning gelato shop that Sergio has directed us to  and got in line.  Great gelato!! We’re back on the bus (or Comedy Central as we now call it) and head back to our hotel to get ready for our ‘Farewell Dinner’ at another hilltop restaurant overlooking the Tuscany valley.  1st course: salami and other meats, 2nd course: bean soup (delicious!), 3rd course: pasta with cream sauce, 4th course: pasta with red sauce, 5th course: beef stew and potatoes, 6th course: desert (not sure what it was or how it tasted, my taste buds had checked out after the serving of the second pasta).  And, of course, the wine flowed freely.  We were all sad to leaving Sergio, but looking forward to the next stop on our own – Cinque Terre.

‘On-Off Boat’

These five towns built on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean are beautiful; we stayed in Monterosso, the largest of the villages and took an ‘on-off boat’ to visit the other four – actually only three as one village doesn’t have a port. It was another perfect weather day, as we strolled through each towns enjoying food, beverage and gelato.  We finished the day with a fabulous dinner, that lasted over three hours, at a seaside restaurant in our ‘home town’ of Monterosso.

Our trip home takes a few twists and turns which I will hopefully account with some of my own photos next time.

 

 

“Sorry, The Tower is Not Leaning Today”

by Bob Sparrow

(I’m still unable to download photos, but I’m using Google Images to come as close as I can)

View from hilltop Tuscan mansion

The dinner I was headed to before I had to sign off on Monday was FABULOUS.  It was at a Tuscany villa high on a hill overlooking the entire valley below.  It was a mansion that is rented out for special events.  The chef came to our outside dining area and showed us how he made the pasta he served us – interesting and delicious!  There was a DJ playing a variety of songs and the night had the potential of being a ‘sing off’ between guests from northern California, (insert photo of So. Call beating No. Cal singing ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ and our southern California gang singing, ‘I Love L.A.’ – even though we really don’t like LA all that much.  But we all ‘played nicely with others’ as we both did a great job of singing ‘Sweet Caroline’.

It’s Monday morning and we are off to Pisa, about an hour bus ride away.  We had a local guide, Vincehenzo, and he is a proud Pisan (or whatever you call people from Pisa) who was so well-informed and so articulate – he brought everything to life.  The bell tower (the one that’s leaning), as you might suspect, is still leaning although someone had sprayed a sign on a wall on our way to the tower that read ‘Sorry, the tower is not leaning today’.  It was explained to us that there is current technology that could straighten the tower fairly easily, but it brings in millions of dollars each year to the town of Pisa, so I don’t think we’ll see any straightening of the tower anytime soon.  After taking all the requisite photos of people pushing the tower over, we visited the adjacent church, Santa Maria Cathedral.  I don’t know whether it was the church or whether it was the fact that Vincehenzo was so good, but he made every aspect of the history of this church come alive.  We went into the Baptistry where over 100 people had to remain perfectly silent while a single voice sang out and demonstrated the awesome acoustics in the building.  I can still hear that voice echoing in that chamber.  Once outside the baptistery, Vincehenzo explained the ancient rivalry between the cities of Florence and Pisa – it’s was the L.A. and San Francisco argument all over again.

Cathedral Santa Maria

We got back to the hotel for a brief period of time before we were off to a local farm to make our own pasta dinner.  It was about an hour’s drive and we were greeted with a glass of wine (of course!) and the chef’s staff who immediately put us to work kneading the pasta, chopping the mushrooms, slicing the tomatoes and basically putting our somewhat dubious cooking skills to work.  We also made tiramisu – that was a big mistake as I’ll be making that way too many times when I get home.

Tuesday we are off to Siena, about an hour and a half bus ride from our hotel.  It’s another beautiful walled city, with a unique event that pits district against district and takes place every year.  It is called the Palio di Siena, and it is run twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th, where horses run around the Piazza del Compo (city square) where there are some 50,000 people that cram into the area to witness the race that lasts about one minute. What’s really interesting is that it is not unusual that the jockey falls off their horse, but it doesn’t matter if the horse finishes the race with or without the jockey!

Palio di Siena

On our way back from Siena, we stopped at a small, family owned winery and enjoyed several samples of some great wine – both red and white, along with some great charcuterie (that’s meat and cheese and stuff for those non-winers).

Dinner back in our local plaza and crash.

Wednesday is a ‘free day’, so we get to relax and just explore our magnificent base city of Montecatini Terme.  This evening for dinner we’ll be taking a funicular up to Montecatini Alto, a small village that sits on a nearby hilltop – more on that next time.

I’m going to need a vacation from this vacation, but it’s been an amazing experience.

More next Monday.

Under the Tuscany Sun

by Bob Sparrow

Imagine if you will the beautiful countryside of the rolling hills of Tuscany.  The fact is you will have to imagine it as the bandwidth the Hotel Ercolini e Savi is so thin, it could run around in a shower and never get wet, which means I am unable to send photos, but promise to when cyberspace allow.

The trip over was long and uneventful except for the Russian spy on our flight from LAX to Paris (insert photo of Russian spy here); more than likely she was coming back from just playing golf with Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Palos Verdes.  But that’s a blog for another time.

From Paris we flew to Florence where we were met by our tour guide, Sergio (insert picture of Sergio), who is a jolly (meaning he’s a bit over-weight) man with a great attitude and smile.  He knows Italy backwards and forwards (he was born there) and could seriously do stand-up comedy.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, your tour guide either makes or breaks your trip.  I felt so relieved upon meeting Sergio – there was no question he is going to make it great!

Our hotel is in the town of Montecatini Terme in the middle of the Tuscan region and this town is fabulous – not too big, not too small.  Great atmosphere, great restaurants and bars, friendly people.  Travel tip: go there!  That evening (Friday) we had a welcome dinner for all of the people on the tour, which numbered 42, all but two from the U.S..  We were a group of 12, there was a group from northern California of 16; the rest were from various parts of the US with one couple from Wales.  These were the people who we were going to spend the next eight days with so we were anxious to get to know them.  After Sergio explained all the fun and the rules, we enjoyed a nice dinner at the hotel and decided to head into the town square for an after-dinner drink.  (insert group photo of sitting in outdoor bar off the square of Montecatini), we eventually found our way back to the hotel, but since there was a bar next door that looked fun, we stopped for ‘just one more’.  We did finally get to our rooms for some much-needed sleep.

I’d like to say I had the best night’s sleep I had in a long time, and I did, but since our watches and phones were still on California time, the alarms never went off and we woke up at 8:25, when we had implicit instructions to be on the bus by 8:30 and DON’T BE LATE!  Not a good start . . . obviously we were late and got a nice round of applause when we entered the bus red-faced!  We were headed for Florence to spend the day and a beautiful day it was, weather-wise and experience-wise.  Prior to getting into the city, we headed to a hilltop site that provided us an extraordinary view of the entire city including the famous Ponte Vecchio (insert photo of city view showing Ponte Vecchio) The highlight, of course, was a trip to see Michelangelo’s David, of which I got a rather unusual photo (insert photo of David’s ass).  We were guided through the city’s churches, civic buildings and various statues and fountains – very interesting.  Back to the hotel, a short nap and a great dinner at a local restaurant just off the plaza in town

While our first full day was Under a Tuscan Sun, Sunday (where we did make it to the bus on time by the way!) started with a heavy rain shower, but quickly gave way to sun, which not-too-quickly gave way to more rain, as we motored to the town of Lucca.  Another great Italian town, this one with a city wall all the way around it (insert photo of city wall) and the rain ceased while we toured the city with a local guide, rented bikes and rode all the way around the city on the wall (insert photo of our unfortunate bike crash – it’s not true what they said about never forgetting how to ride a bike), toured the home/museum of composer, Giacomo Puccini, who wrote the operas, Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, and Turandot (from which the song Nessun Dorma comes).  On our way home we passed ‘Devil’s Bridge’ (photo and story later, maybe) stopped at a WWII museum and walked through a real old Nazi bunker – spooky! (photo of spooky Nazi bunker).

The trip has been awesome so far!! (insert photo of how awesome trip is) A Tuscan dinner out tonight somewhere, but I’ll have to write about that next time – hopefully Thursday.

P.S.  In the event my photos never come through, just look this stuff up on Google.

Arrivederci (photo of me saying, “See you later”)

Summer’s Over . . . or Is It?

by Bob Sparrow

With Labor Day coming and going, summer is ‘unofficially’ over; a fact that you don’t have to tell most kids, who have been back in school for several weeks.  But I’m going to try and squeeze in one more ‘summer vacation’ before the season is ‘officially’ over.

This Thursday we’ll be heading to Italy with five other couples from the ‘hood: Mark & Kathy Johnson, Patrick & Pam Michael, Mike & Tanis Nelson, Bob & Jeanne Pacelli and Rob & Stefanie Warren.  Yes, I know I was just in Italy in July, but if you had a chance to go back, wouldn’t you?  And this group knows how to have fun.

Montecatini Terme

The first segment of our trip is a group tour called Spotlight on Tuscany, which lasts for nine days, with the town of Montecatini Terme, in the rolling hills of Tuscany, serving as our base from which we will visit a different area each day.  One day we’ll hit Florence, the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, and have a chance to see Michelangelo’s David; I last saw him in 1974 and I’m curious if, now as an older man, he’s still standing naked in the middle of the Academy Gallery.  We’ll also see the walled city of Lucca, which is advertised as Tuscany’s best kept secret, but I have a feeling that it’s not that much of a secret anymore – I’ll let you know.  We’ll have a guided walking tour through the charming town of Siena and then of course we’ll all take the requisite photo of us pushing over the leaning tower of Pisa in that coastal town.

Throughout the tour we’ll be tasting Italian wines, Italian olive oils, more Italian wines, Italian cheeses and some more Italian wines.

Cinque Terre

After our stay in Tuscany we’ll be hopping on a train and heading for the Mediterranean coast to the picturesque towns of Cinque Terre – a destination that has long-been on my travel bucket list.  We’re on our own here, so we’ll be hiking through the five villages, taking water taxis back and forth and probably drinking some Italian wine.

And yes, of course, you’re invited to come along vicariously and be spared the joys of airplane rides and airline rubber chicken.  You’ll also not have to pack any foul-weather gear, as rain is predicted for our first several days in Tuscany.  Trust me, it won’t dampen our spirits!

As always I’ll update you as we go along.

SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE, SUR-PRISE!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Wedding anniversaries are something to be celebrated. Those of us who are married recognize that making it through another year of love, fun, in-laws at Thanksgiving and arguments about who should take the garbage out is something to be celebrated. This past weekend brother Bob and his wife, Linda, celebrated their 40th anniversary and the best part is, they didn’t have to plan a thing. In fact, they were the honorees at a surprise party planned and hosted by their three children, Stephanie, Dana and Jeff (and their respective spouses, of course). Linda’s sister, Starlet and I flew in to add to the surprise. And believe me, it was a real surprise because unbeknownst to them, we planned on staying at their house for the weekend.

FUN neighborhood group with bad boy Marc Webb

I admit, I was unaware of the traditions associated with a 40th anniversary so I consulted with my friend Google and, as usual, learned just how ignorant I am.  Turns out, the traditional gift for a 40th anniversary is a ruby. It was chosen because of its deep, rich color and symbolism of devotion and passion for life. WOW…I couldn’t think of a more perfect description of Bob and Linda. They are both curious, fun-loving, optimistic and enthusiastic about all that they do. As you can see from the photos, they (and their friends, I might add) really know how to have a good time. When I think of them, I conjure up images of people who really know how to take a big bite out of the apple. After the initial shock, and fortified by a little libation, they laughed, joked and enjoyed the evening as only they could.

Dana, Jeff, Stephanie – three FABULOUS kids!

Another traditional 40th anniversary gift is a party. Well…this one was one for the ages. The three kids did a fabulous job of organizing, decorating and planning down to the smallest detail. The decorations were right out of Pinterest and the photos kept everyone reminiscing and laughing all night. It’s rather humbling to look at photos of yourself from 40 years ago. There were just a few of us who were at their wedding and we kept squinting at the pictures, marveling at when we had either more hair or tighter skin. But one thing that remained the same is that Bob and Linda were fun-loving and family-oriented then and they have kept that ball rolling for 40 years. The fact that their children threw the party tells you everything you need to know about how beloved they are and what terrific and supportive parents they have been.  And don’t even get them started on the grandchildren unless you have an hour or more to spare.  Heck, even the sonogram photo of their grandson-in-waiting was drooled over.  That boy doesn’t know how great he’s going to have it.

Which leads me to the third piece of a traditional 40th anniversary gift – a family portrait.  I’m not sure a photo can capture just how special this family is but hopefully you can see by the smiles on their faces how genuinely happy they are to be together and share such an incredible, amazing bond.  Though much has changed in the world over the past 40 years, Bob and Linda have remained steadfast in their devotion to each other and their families. So…a toast to them and wishing them more decades of love, fun, exciting trips and good friends.

There is no more fun family than the Sparrows so for your entertainment I’ve posted a few of the family photos from the event.

The wonderful Sparrow family

 

Linda and three of her bridesmaids – Chris, me and Starlet

An historic year!

Haven’t we all felt like this at some point?

 

 

 

 

 

The older generation!

CAKE!

 

Always laughing!

 

 

 

Is My Guitar Gently Weeping?

by Bob Sparrow

(Yes, I’m obviously still sitting around the house searching for things to write about, but I’m back on the road next month; hang in there)

      In June I discovered a crack in the face of my six-month old Taylor 12-string guitar. I called the Taylor manufacturer in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, to see what I should do. I was told I could either ship it to them or take it down there in person, which I decided to do, as I wanted to take a tour of their huge guitar-making facility.

It is an interesting tour of the largest guitar maker in the U.S.; between El Cajon and their facility in Tecate, Mexico, they turn out about 700 guitars A DAY – mostly acoustic. The tour allows one to see each step in the process of the making of their various guitars. I found it most interesting to find out that the wood for these guitars comes from all over the world; East Indian Rosewood, Hawaiian Koa, African Ebony, Tasmanian Blackwood, Mexican Cocobolo are just a few of the many types of wood used by Taylor. The wood not only gives guitars different colors, it also gives the sounds they make different colors. I’m not sure where the wood for my guitar came from; I’m guessing Pacoima.

Taylor 150e 12-string guitar

I handed in my guitar at the El Cajon repair facility and asked them to please fix it and handle it with care. But I wondered, with 700 guitars pouring out every day, would mine just get lost in the guitar shuffle? Would it be neglected and weeping in some warehouse corner in El Cajon?  Who knows what really happens in these places? I’ve called Taylor a couple of times to inquire about my guitar’s status, but all I get are voicemails.

I take consolation in the fact that while my 12-string is in either intensive or insensitive care, I have not been guitarless, as I have my six-string, a Martin D-35 that Linda gave me in 1980.  It’s done its share of weeping as well, but has gotten better with age . . . and practice. But if I’m thinking of a weeping guitar, it’s my very first one that comes to mind and it wasn’t weeping it was literally crying out loud!

It was a mail order SilverTone f-hole guitar, purchased in 1959 from Sears & Roebuck. That guitar did lots of weeping, as did my family members, who were within earshot of me trying to learn to play the darn thing. Nary a silver tone came out of it until my friend, Don showed me how to tune and play it.  I kept it all the way through college, but as I think back now, I don’t remember what ever happened to it, as after graduation I joined the service and was sent to Japan. Perhaps my parents used it for firewood on a cold winter night – sweet revenge for all those sleepless nights they endured.

1959 SilverTone f-hole – firewood?

 

I finally did hear from the folks at Taylor, telling me that my guitar would be coming to me sometime this week. As of this writing, I’m still waiting and hoping my guitar is not weeping due to the fact that it’s coming back to me, but I have tissues ready.

 

REDECORATING: A SLIPPERY SLOPE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Yep – you can do this in August

As I may have mentioned a time or ten, Arizona is hot in the summer.  I’m really okay with it.  In fact, over the past couple of years I’ve grown to love the empty streets, restaurants and shopping malls.  Against all odds, I’ve actually become a “summer person”.  That said, the only way to keep your sanity when spending so much time indoors is to have projects.  Or alcohol.  But the latter can lead to some disastrous outcomes so the past two summers I’ve focused on getting things done that seem too mundane to work on when the weather is 75 degrees.  In May I  “sparked joy” and organized my pantry and the cabinets in the laundry room.  Then in June we paid to visit to our kids up in Denver and our daughter’s gorgeous home and her talent for decorating inspired me to put a little refresh into our home.  Just a couple of chairs and some new pillows strewn about would do the trick.  That’s how it all started.

Redecorating, it turns out, is almost as fatal as our previous remodels.  Sure, we don’t have sheetrock dust everywhere and fireplaces being torn out, but the concept is the same.  It starts with one little idea and then the next thing you know, whole rooms have been transformed.  Actually, one of my favorite stories from brother Bob involves his friends, the Sagers.  You know them – you recently went on the Italian cruise with them.  Anyway, turns out they are in the middle of remodeling, with rooms and walls being torn out.  Recently, Chuck turned to Bob and said, “Gee, this started because we needed a new garbage disposal”.  Yep – that’s exactly how it happens.  The slippery slope of home projects.

New fabrics and rug. I’m not crazy – sofa and chairs are ivory – these are just accents.

In any event, I started with two chairs and some pillows for the family room.  I was going to keep our current sofa and rug.  But the more I thought about it, the color of the sofa just wasn’t quite right so I went in search of a new one.  The store where I bought our current furniture was having a sale – perfect!  The designer looked up our account and looked at me quizzically.  “You just bought this is 2014.  Most people keep sofas for 20 years.”  When I told her this would be my fourth sofa in 19 years she sidled right up to me – recognizing a pigeon when she saw one.  She came to the house ladened with fabric and leather samples.  Two chairs, one sofa and one ottoman later, she had a sale.  Just as she was closing the deal she mentioned that she thought the new furniture would look better with a more neutral rug.  I’d had my eye on a new hide rug from Ben Soleimani so not five minutes after she left I ordered it.  I was DONE…or so I thought.

Light fixture…not shining on beer bottle stains

The next day brought a new dawn and new redecorating ideas.  The carpet in my knitting room (aka Dash the Wonder Dog’s room) was in need of refreshing. Out came the carpet salesman and as long as he was at the house I decided maybe the master bedroom carpet was looking a bit tired so we’re reviving it too.  While my attention was in Dash’s room I took another look at the glass coffee table.  You know, they say glass is dangerous for senior citizens in case of a fall, so in the interests of safety I bought a new leather one that will provide a lot more cushioning for my klutzy self.  I next turned my eye toward the dining room.  Our beautiful travertine table had been etched over the years.  Mostly it was scarred from the bottom of beer bottles which, embarrassingly, were directly in front of my place at the table.  I was going to buy a new one but instead I consulted my friend, Yelp, and found a travertine refinisher.  He honed, polished and sealed the table and all evidence of beer pong games was magically removed.  He also told me about Rock Doctor Cleaner and Polisher (available at Home Depot or Lowe’s).  I used it on the granite in the kitchen and it’s awesome.  Anyway, now that I didn’t need a new table I decided that it might be time for a new chandelier.  We found a beautiful one that will be delivered some time in September and then I’ll just need to find a new art piece for the table.  Or maybe an interesting table runner.  Or…?

My inner Martha Stewart on display

Finally, I made a trek to our local upholstery fabric store.  Or, as I like to think of it, crack cocaine central.  The upshot?  Four dining chairs in the great room being reupholstered (after all, they have to match the new furniture) plus fabric for pillows.  And here is where I’m saving lots of money – or so I tell my husband.  I am a decent seamstress so I made new pillows for the living room.  Next, I knit a herringbone throw for the living room and I’m working on a more modern one for the new family room décor.  See?  I’m saving money left and right.

I thought we were done but last night my husband said, “As long as you’re in a furniture-buying mood, why don’t you get us some new nightstands?”.  God, surely there has to be a 12-step program for redecorating.

Ducks!

by Bob Sparrow

(Unfortunately these are the kind of stories you get when one is recovering from back surgery.  I’ll be back in action shortly!)

Shoulda ducked!

I most often hear the word “Duck!” when it’s yelled by the rest of my foresome after I hit a golf ball. But when I heard it from my neighbor it was even more scary. He called me when I was in Death Valley this past spring to tell me that a mother duck had just hatched eight little ducklings in my backyard. What?!!! How did they get there? How did you find them? Who can I call? Once I settled down, he said that since he had a mother duck give birth in his backyard a couple of years ago, that he’d be happy to take them off my hands since he was up to speed on the care and feeding of ducklings. Hell yes! I’m thinking, but I said something like, are you sure you want to do that? He said he had experience and was happy to do it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I gleefully accepted his offer.  So, in a effort that he described as akin to ‘herding cats’, he got eight baby ducklings as well as the mother to walk around the fence that separates our yards and created a home for them in his yard and pool instead of mine.

Stay close kiddies!

Once home and thankful that the ducks were no longer on my property, I found that my second-story home office window, which overlooks my neighbors yard and pool, offered me a bird’s eye view of the daily development of ‘our’ ducklings. First, I must say the mother duck was most attentive to her brood, keeping a constant eye on them and protecting them from birds of prey (mostly hawks) who were looking for a duck dinner. The ducklings obviously showed that they could immediately walk (something we humans take up to a year or so to do) and very quickly they were in the neighbor’s pool and the mother was teaching them how to swim. I think one of the lessons she taught them was to make sure that they looked like they were expending no energy at all, but beneath the water’s surface, they’re moving their little webbed feet as fast as they could. “Don’t look like you’re working hard kids”, I could hear her saying. . . or quacking. Swimming came very naturally to these guys – actually I couldn’t tell the guys from the girls, as at this age they all looked the same. It’s only later that the males start looking a little more colorful – in an effort to attract females.

“Kids, make sure you look like you’re not expending any energy”

Day by day, week by week the ducklings grew and the neighbor’s pool grew also, from blue to brownish green. Duck poop will do that! Our neighbor had Googled how long it would take before the ducks would leave – about 51 days. Under the mother’s tutelage, the ducklings would parade around the pool, jump in and swim a few laps, eat something then take a nap. The ducks were strutting proudly as if to say, “Hey, I can now walk pretty good, ok it’s a waddle, but I can swim really good, but how are we going to get out of this place?” Be patient by little duckling, I could hear the mother preaching.  Apparently a mother duck and her brood have some attraction to the opposite sex as both my neighbor and I spent much of our time scaring male suitors out of our pools.

Soon the ducklings started flapping their wings while they skimmed over the pool’s surface, never quite getting out of the water. Then one day, about 51 days into their life on earth, as I was looking out of my office window, I saw one of the ducklings, who was now as big as his mother, frantically flapping its wings, skimming across the pool and like a prop airplane rumbling down the runway gaining speed as the propellers spun frantically and then suddenly he become airborne. I could almost hear the duck say, “Damn, I can walk, I can swim and now I can frickin’ fly!”

“Look Ma, I can almost frickin’ fly!”

Soon all the ducklings and mother, had flown off and with a whole lot of chlorine, the neighbor’s pool returned to normal. While I was most happy that the neighbor took on the task of providing a first home for this brood, I must say I was impressed mostly with the mom, who never left the ducklings alone (our neighbor provided duck food and water for the entire family during their stay – more than the bed and breakfast they would have received at my place) and found it rather interesting to watch the progress of walking, swimming, diving and then flying. Unfortunately, next spring will undoubtedly bring some of the brood back to their old nesting place and will go through the same process with their own family. Ducks Unlimited!

I just hope my neighbor is still willing to take my ducks if they decide to nest here again. I’ll be happy to watch them develop in his yard from my office window.

 

 

DINE AND DASH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The outside of Pete’s, minus the waiting line

It’s long been said that the best restaurants are to be found in funky neighborhoods or strip malls.  Generally, I’ve found that to be true and we tested that theory on our return trip home from the Central Coast.  As it happens, our kids were vacationing at the beach in Oxnard so we made a plan to meet in Ventura for brunch.   I picked Ventura because it was a straight shot for us to get back on the freeway.  The older we get the more important that becomes – we get lost easily these days.  I have never been to Ventura but assumed they certainly would have a good place for us to meet so I consulted my expert friend, Yelp.  Yelp has been pretty reliable over the years – if enough people have given a place of business 4-5 stars then it has usually proven to be true.  (On the other hand, if it only has 2-3 you can bet the reviewers are related to the owner).  Sure enough, the #1 restaurant in Ventura is Pete’s Breakfast House.  And, since we were traveling with Dash the Wonder Dog it was a bonus that they allow dogs on the patio. Perfect!  Plus, their website indicated they had been featured on Food Network’s hit show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri back in 2012 .  I’ve never known Guy to pick a bad dive.  And I think Pete’s qualifies as a dive since it is right across the street from a tattoo parlor.  Okay…maybe not the highest end of town but then again, that bodes well for the food.

 

Dash getting served royally

Sure enough, we arrived at Pete’s and I was just slightly concerned with the neighborhood.  Not bad enough that I didn’t want to get out of the car, but enough so that I locked the doors while my husband went in to check the place out.  Once he got our table we ventured onto the patio, only to be met by a waitress who fell in love with Dash and immediately brought him a big bowl of water.  So far…five stars for liking my dog.  Once the family arrived and we perused the menu we mentioned to the server that one of our party has a dairy allergy and wondered if their bread had egg in it.  She not only went in to check with the cook but actually brought out a loaf of the bread so we could read the ingredient label.  Once our food arrived we learned why Pete’s is the #1 spot.  Not only was the food terrific but the portions were huge.  We all had different dishes – pancakes, omelets, French toast, breakfast burritos, avocado toast – and all of them were fabulous.  I decided to go with Pete’s signature dish, the Pancake Roll.

The gargantuan Pancake Roll

The Pancake Roll, as the menu warns, is a HUGE pancake filled with yogurt, and then topped with berries and home made granola.  When our server first brought it out I thought it was something for the whole table.  Even I, who eat pancakes almost every Sunday, could only eat one third of it.  But boy, that one third was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  When my husband went inside to pay the check he spoke with the owner about our great service and excellent food.  The owner’s reaction was one of gratitude and pleasure that we enjoyed it, even though I’m sure he must get that same compliment dozens of times a day.  Maybe his gracious attitude is why they are so successful.  In fact, when we left, there was a long line out the front door at 11 on a Monday morning.  I learned that is pretty typical.

In any event, if you’re ever within a 50 mile radius of Ventura I highly recommend Pete’s Breakfast House.  And, for that matter, so does Dash.

Some Parting Shots

by Bob Sparrow

While I’m still trying to adjust to my time zone, work the kinks out of my back, which was greeted by a physician’s scalpel upon my return, I’m not traveling too far from my house.  But knowing that you’re waiting for some kind of adventure, I’m giving you some photos, and salient comments, from the recent trip that didn’t make the cut for previous blogs.  For your review:

In the town of Marinella, prior to cast off, I ordered a large cup of Italian coffee.

I’m sure this was a very public toilet in the city of Pompeii

 

After seeing the lighting in the ship’s dining room, the Sagers decided to add it to the dining room in their house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our ship driving in the fast lane

Photo of Chuck just prior to getting thrown out of the cooking class for drinking

 

Just before I opted out of the sponge diving event in Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Death Stairs’ to THE WALL in Dubrovnik

We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t make ice cream like the Italians!

Jack & Chuck on a romantic gondola ride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love to travel, love to get home!