MUCKING AROUND THE CHICKEN COOP

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Have you seen the price of eggs lately?  They have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, particularly here in Arizona.  Beginning January 1, chicken farmers here have had to double the space provided for their laying hens.  The new law has caused egg production to diminish by roughly half, while the increase in prices has roughly doubled.  Elsewhere in the country egg prices have increased due to avian flu and weather conditions.  So, Americans are doing what they normally do in a crisis – taking matters into their own hands and becoming chicken farmers.   People are rushing to farm supply stores, hell-bent on becoming more self-sufficient when it comes to their breakfasts.  Unfortunately, like many trends that make their way to TikTok and other social media platforms, this has not been particularly well thought out.  I should know, for a brief time in my youth I was the proud owner of a chicken.

Novato was still a rural community in the 1950’s, with many dairy and chicken farms in the surrounding area. My third-grade teacher thought it would be a wonderful life lesson for us to see the cycle of life, at least with respect to chickens and eggs.  Perhaps she was trying to provide a real-life illustration of the age-old quandary of which came first. In any event, she brought a chicken coop into the classroom and every morning we rushed to the coop to see if the chicken had laid an egg. After four weeks of a squawking chicken and a room full of distracted third graders, she decided to end the “chicken lesson”.  But instead of taking the chicken back to where she got it, she asked if anyone wanted to adopt it. My hand shot up and several hours later I proudly walked home with “Henrietta”.  I cannot recall my parents’ reaction to the new addition to our family, but I can’t imagine it was good.  I quickly discovered that chickens take a lot of work and… this is the tough part…their excrement smells like, well, chicken excrement.  Details escape me but I think Henrietta quickly wore out her welcome and my dad took her to our next-door neighbor who already owned chickens.  It was perfect, I could visit her but not have to care for her, or more critically, clean up after her.

Given my brief stint as a chicken owner, I’ve been fascinated by this recent trend in chicken farming.  As I learned, raising chickens is not easy, or necessarily cost-effective.  Baby chickens are selling for $5 each.  Sounds cheap, however, feed ranges from 10 to 20 cents a bird per day and coops cost between $400 and $3,000. Other costs for the birds include heating and fencing.  And most people don’t realize that hens don’t lay eggs in winter conditions.  Perhaps they come to Arizona like the other snowbirds? One new owner adopted seven chicks four months ago and estimates she’s spent about $750 on food, bedding, heat lamps and other supplies. She doesn’t have a single egg to show for it.  That makes paying $8 for a dozen eggs sound like a bargain.

When people realize that chicken farming isn’t all romance and eggs benedict, the question arises as to how to dispose of the chicken?  In olden days, once hens could no longer produce eggs, they became dinner.  But many new chicken owners are reluctant to eat their hens.  In fact, some say they have become a part of the family.  One woman in my knitting group has knit sweaters for her daughter’s chicken.  We thought she was joking, but it turns out it has been a popular fashion trend for chickens.  Apparently, people are mis-guided in thinking that chickens get cold, when in fact, sweaters actually inhibit the hen’s ability to shed feathers.  But like the people who put a ballerina skirt on their dog, sometimes common sense plays no part when it comes to people and their animals.  All I know is, although my time as a chicken owner was brief, it did inform me as to how convenient it is to buy eggs at the grocery store, regardless of price.  The eggs are ready to eat and better yet, you don’t have to muck around in chicken excrement to get them.

I’m Amazed by the James Webb Space Telescope

by Bob Sparrow

JWST photo of ‘Cartwheel Galaxy’ 500 million light years away.

I’ve searched high and low for something to write about this week.  Yes, I was just out in ‘the desert’, had a great time, but you’ve heard those stories before.  I have some fun trips planned for later in the year, but that’s for later in the year.  What on earth can I possibly write about?  Wait a minute, maybe what I write about is not on earth.  Those who follow us here, know that I have an interest in space, and have mentioned before, perhaps on several occasions, that coincidently, my teachers always said that I took up space in school.

If you thought James Webb was the love child of Jack Webb and Princess Leia, then you should probably stop reading now.

Since the launching of this 26-year project, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), on Christmas day of 2021 from French Guiana, the photos that it’s been sending back to us have been spectacular!  Wait a minute, why, you ask was a telescope built by the US (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies launched from French Guiana, of all places?  You astrophysicists out there already know that the closer to the equator the launch is, the faster the earth is spinning and thus giving the launch additional push.

James Webb Space Telescope

When one discovers that this six metric ton, floating telescope was folded up inside an Ariane 5 rocket, built by the European Space Agency, for launch on a 930,000-mile journey, it’s truly amazing . . . at least to me.  Once it reached its destination, a 21-foot mirror and a tennis court-sized sunshield was unfolded.  This large light collecting area can look further back in time than any previous telescope – don’t think about that for too long or your brain will start hurting!   If any of the attachments failed to unfold properly, the mission would have been scrubbed, as there would be no way to reach and repair this telescope, which is 100 times more powerful that its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope.  Once the JWST was in place, attachments deployed, instruments turned on, mirrors aligned and the optics of the telescope were cooled, along with other stuff that none of us normal people would understand, the telescope started sending back amazing images starting in July 2022.  It’s mind boggling to me how the space agencies could work on something 930,000 miles away when I can’t even get my wi-fi working!  They estimate that it will continue to send photographs back to us for the next five to ten years.  Cost?  About $10 Billion.  Not bad when you consider we’ve already spent more than $50 Billion on Ukraine.

The ‘Other’ Ringed Planet

Photo Op: If you were to guess the name of the planet with the rings in the photo on the left, you might guess Saturn, because of the rings.  Nope, it’s Neptune.  Yep, Neptune has rings; they’re not as spectacular as Saturn’s, but rings none the less.  Because Neptune is 30 times further from the Sun than Earth, it hasn’t been easy to photograph, but this recent close-up photo taken by the JWST last year, showed its rings.

If you want to know more of the basics of this scientific wonder, below is a link to a 13-minute, 60 Minutes segment on the JWST prior to its launch in late 2021.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMxdeUJ0v2c

Hopefully that was interesting to some of you.  To keep the integrity of the science involved here, I purposely avoided any Uranus jokes.  You’re welcome!

 

 

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I listened to an interesting podcast the other day wherein NYU professor Jonathan Haidt was interviewed about his book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  The book takes a deep dive into the culture of “safetyism” that has developed on college campuses and how it interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development and has contributed to the divisions we see in our culture.  It’s more complicated than that, and certainly more nuanced that I can do justice to here.  He’s an interesting guy and has a number of videos on YouTube if you want to learn more about him and his research.

What caught my attention, and led me to this post, was his discussion about the effect of social media on young people.  (I actually started this post a couple of weeks ago after I watched Haidt, and coincidentally blends right into what my brother posted about last week).  Haidt cited a statistic that was startling: between 2010 and 2015 the suicide rate of teenage girls almost tripled.  Haidt concluded the advent of social media, with its constant bombardment of “influencers” who appear to have a perfect face and body, combined with negative, sometimes cruel, comments young girls receive about their own posts, is a primary cause of depression and feelings of worthlessness.  This struck a chord with me, as I had just remarked to a friend that I couldn’t imagine being a teenager today, having to be constantly “photo worthy”.  Heck, my heart skips a beat now when someone accidently FaceTime’s me.  If I don’t have my hair done and makeup on, I pretend I was in the shower when they called.

It seems every young woman I see lately is clutching her phone like a lifeline. I think about how far we have come from the more reticent generations before us.  It was pretty common growing up that our mothers – and certainly our grandmothers – were known to say, “Oh, don’t put me in the picture!”  Now we have social media platforms that contain nothing but people taking pictures of themselves.  I keep an Instagram account to post photos of Dash the Wonder Dog, and a lot of the photos that come across my feed are of women with their phone to their face, trying to pose in just the right way, with their lips in the perfect pout or their hair tousled to project something between “I just got up” and “I’m the sexiest person alive”.  I’d like to blame the Kardashians for starting this trend, but that’s too easy a target.  There are plenty of people, and companies, to blame for this fascination with how we look and the compulsion to let others know how we look.

Aside from the damage all this does to self-esteem, the bigger concern for me is the inward focus of this trend.  The “influencers” give the impression that if you just have the right clothes, purse, makeup, yada yada, life will be good.  But those of us of a certain age know that no amount of beautiful outward trappings will bring you happiness. Which is why Heidt is so concerned about the mental health of young people, who strive so hard to replicate an airbrushed version of someone and are then bitterly disappointed when they fall short.  I think this is an urgent problem that needs a drastic solution.  Removing phones is impractical and unrealistic – we can’t put that genie back in the bottle.  Maybe we need to have a draft for young people where they are required to do community service.  It would not only get them out of the house and into broader society, but it would also expose them to people less fortunate, who have bigger problems than not having the right brand of sneakers or a statement handbag.  It would be a start.

I promise – next week we will be back to talking about football or cake or something a bit lighter!

 

 

 

Feeling Isolated?

by Bob Sparrow

Feeling isolated?  You’re not alone.  Now there is an oxymoron for our times!  It seems to me that we’ve been working our way into isolation over the last couple of decades; certainly exacerbated by Covid recently, but largely encouraged, by the convenience of getting most everything we want or need without leaving your home and ironically, through social media, which can be very anti-social and divisive.

Come with me inside an American household at the end of a typical day. 

Dick shuts off his computer and takes off his headset, as he completes another day of work . . . remotely, just as an Amazon truck pulls up in front of the house, for the third time this week, as the driver drops off a package at the front door – it’s the cosmetics his wife, Jane, ordered yesterday.  Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rings and it’s Door Dash with the meal that was ordered for tonight’s dinner.  They sit down and enjoy their meal while watching a Netflix series. After the kids wolf down their food and are not interested in what their parents are watching on TV, they retreat to their separate bedrooms and get on their phones or computers.

Sounds pretty normal right?  But what’s missing is fairly obvious – socialization!

Dick working remotely is certainly handy and saves gas and time commuting to and from work, but it eliminates any socialization with work colleagues.  Amazon is amazing, but it keeps both Dick and Jane from getting out of the house and mingling with people to shop; ‘window shopping’ has even been replaced by computer ‘scrolling’.   Amazon. seems to be on a mission to make most retail stores obsolete – and they’re doing quite well at it.  Door Dash and their like, deliver meals or groceries to your doorstep, which keeps the family out of restaurants and grocery stores; while Netflix, and all the other streaming services, keep folks sitting silently in front of their televisions and out of movie theaters, as well as typically eliminating any family interaction or sharing of the ‘events of the day’ while sitting around the dinner table.  Today’s kids would much rather be alone with their phones or computers than sitting around the dinner table having a ‘family discussion’ or watching what their parents are watching on TV.

This trend is disturbing to me.  Even getting to know people is different; today people don’t learn about each other from meeting and interacting, they learn from social media.  It seems that the tools we’ve been given and told would increase connectivity and socialization, have done just the opposite.  Yes, we most probably ‘connect’ more, but on a more superficial level; and mostly just to show as many people as possible what a great life we have, because we only post the good stuff!  We also believe that there are a lot of people who want to hear our opinion on a particular subject, even though we may not be at all qualified to opine intelligently on that subject.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter give us the platform to spew whatever is rattling around in our brains at the time, regardless of how knowledgeable or well-thought out our responses are.  Today, everyone has a platform, which on the surface sounds good, but it is a privilege that is egregiously abused.

I think we are on a very slippery social media slope and I certainly don’t have the answers to find purchase thereon, but I hope to make a more conscious effort to choose socialization over social media this year and hope you do as well.

I’ll be right back, after this commercial break . . .

Kids ‘socializing’!

As we all inevitably get deeper and deeper into social media, as they get deeper and deeper into us, we’d like to encourage you to subscribe to our blog (Just click the ‘SUBSCRIBE’ button at the top right of this page and put in your email address.  The blog will come directly to your email every Monday).  We know many of you have been subscribers for years, and we thank you, but we also know that many of you get and comment on our blogs on Facebook, or other social media.  As we get closer and closer to being totally disgusted with social media and ‘drop out’, we want you to still be able to get our blog every week.  The cost is reasonable, like free!!!

Back to our programing.  Actually, my work is done here – ‘thought for the year’ – more face-to-face,  and less Facebook, Facetime and Faceplants!

 

I RESOLVE TO DISSOLVE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

If you’re like me, you’re avoiding the scale this week. All of the eating and drinking over the holidays has taken its toll on my hips.  I don’t need a scale to tell me that – my zipper does a fine job of letting me know I’ve overindulged.  I always make an attempt to form resolutions at the beginning of the year, a time when I feel particularly guilty about my mental and physical state.  Most years the ink isn’t dry on the paper I’ve written them on before I’ve broken one.  I thought this was true for everyone.  But John C. Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton has researched New Year’s resolutions and finds that contrary to popular belief, a fair number of people actually do stick to their good intentions.  In fact, in a study he conducted of people who wanted to change a behavior, he discovered that more than 40% of those with resolutions stuck with them, while only 4% of the group who didn’t make a resolution achieved the behavioral changes they had in mind.

In a larger study in Sweden a professor learned that how New Year’s resolutions were framed helped determine how effective they were. For example, if you want to spend less time on your phone, you have a better chance if you commit to reading a book than if you delete Instagram.  He discovered that starting a new activity is “stickier” than quitting an old one. The new activity quickly transforms from a chore to a habit. The upshot of both studies was that if we want to keep a resolution longer than say, January 10th, it needs to be specific and realistic.  One person vowed to begin flossing his teeth every day and a year later he was still on track.  That makes me wonder what took him so long to perform this basic hygiene task, but as with all resolutions, we shouldn’t judge.  Besides, I’m sure this guy’s dentist was thrilled so actually he made two people happy that year.

A software developer based in Australia built an app called Streaks, a to-do list that functions a bit like a game. When users assign themselves daily tasks, they suddenly feel an urge to complete them: they want to extend their streaks. I get it.  I do the same thing with my Fitbit app – trying to extend the number of days I do at least 10,000 steps a day.  Two years ago, I was up to 246 days but then had to have some minor surgery.  It was not a big deal, but just enough that I couldn’t exercise for a day.  Since then, I’ve gotten to 109 days and then broken it again.  I think my streak on Candy Crush is now greater than my step goal.

This year I’ve resolved to get my walking streak up again – perhaps I’ll accomplish it every day this year.  Or not.  The only thing I can really commit to is eating cake once a month, watching dog videos, and binging programs on Britbox.  You can hold me accountable for those last three and I’ll report back next January.

An Old Time Christmas

by Bob Sparrow

Sisters – Dana & Stephanie

One of the many benefits of starting a new year is that we don’t have to listen to any more of those tired old Christmas songs that have been ear worming us since just after Thanksgiving, maybe even before.  Although, I have to admit that I did hear one song this year, for the first time, a week before Christmas that had rather an unusual effect on me.  While driving home from Las Vegas, listening to the radio, I heard the song ‘An Old Time Christmas’ by George Strait.  When the song finished, I was welling up, which I tried to hide from Linda, who was sitting next to me, by adjusting my dark glasses.  My Sirius Radio gave me the ability to replay the song, so I did, as I was really curious as to what specifically about that song got to me.  So, I played it again – same results.

When I got home, I decided I wanted to learn this song that had such an effect on

Addison & Emma ‘signing’ Jingle Bells

me, so I picked up my guitar, printed off the music for the song, and started to learn to play it.  I couldn’t get through it without choking up.  I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is going on?!!’  I assumed that because the song was about Christmases of the past, that that cued me to think of my Mom and Dad and Christmases with my brother and sister when we were growing up, as well as Christmases when our own kids were growing up.

Fast forward to this Christmas Eve, when we entertained my brother, Jack and wife Sharon, my sister, Suzanne and husband Alan, as well as all of our three kids and their spouses, Stephanie and husband Jason, Dana and husband, Joe and Jeff and wife, Pam; as well as all four grandkids, Dylan, Emma, Addison and Mac.  Also coming by on Christmas Eve was Alan’s daughter, Wendy, her husband, Steve and their college-student kids, Matt (USC) and Jake (Colorado) – it was one of the few times we had everyone there for Christmas.  It was an awesome family gathering.

An Old Timer

When I said we were entertaining this group, I really meant entertaining.  In front of the group, Emma and Addison did Jingle Bells, we sang it and they did the sign language.  Emma, Addison and Mac sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  I did sing An Old Time Christmas, although not very well;  I mentioned when introducing the song, that the kids gathered here today would remember this day as their Old Time Christmas.  Dylan, who at age 12, is quite an accomplished piano player, played GreensleevesIronically, the person in our family with the best voice, Jeff, didn’t get a chance to sing – next year!!  Without question, the highlight of the entertainment was sisters, Stephanie and Dana doing their rendition of Sisters, from the movie, White Christmas.  Classic!!!

I would have to say that it was the best Christmas Eve, maybe ever.  Linda and I feel so very fortunate to have such an amazing family.  We’re hoping you all had a happy and Old Time Christmas as well.

 

WHAT DAY IS IT?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

             The Sparrow “kids”

If your holidays were anything like ours, you might be waking up this morning asking yourself what day it is.  Too much partying, frivolity and eggnog can do that to you.  For the first time in nine years, we Sparrow “kids” and our families gathered together on Christmas Eve.  Because I’m using the term “kids” loosely, it becomes more meaningful each time we are together, especially over the holidays.  There were 20 of us and we had such a good time we’ve decided to plan a summer reunion.  But before we get to next year, there is still a lot of celebrating we can all enjoy this week. To assist you in knowing exactly what to celebrate and when, I’m providing you with a handy guide to help you push through this final week of the year.

December 26th is known for two celebrations, The Feast of St. Stephen or Boxing Day, depending on where you live.  For Catholics worldwide, today is St. Stephen’s Day, or The Feast of St Stephen.  St. Stephen was born a Greek Jew but converted to Christianity and became a disciple of Jesus. That was not a popular move. He was accused of blasphemy and stood trial in a Jewish court, despite his arguing that Christianity supported the teachings of Moses. The crowd was so furious after his testimony that he was carried out and stoned to death. Thus, he became the first Christian martyr, and his life is honored each year on December 26.  Boxing Day has been celebrated since the 1870’s in Britain and the Commonwealth countries.  Today it is akin to Black Friday, where people swarm the stores looking for bargains or return the horrid sweater they got from their mother-in-law.  Ironically, Boxing Day was not always about oneself.  In fact, it used to be quite the opposite.  There are two theories on how Boxing Day originated.  One is that on Christmas Day, people would go to church and place money in a box.  The following day, the money would be dispensed to those in need.  The second theory is that since servants had to work on Christmas Day, their employers would give them a day off on December 26th, along with a box of money or food.  Imagine the disappointment if you were expecting cash and instead received a fruitcake.  Which brings me to…

December 27th is National Fruitcake Day. It’s not a day about a person, although I’m sure we could all identify a few who would qualify.  It’s actually a day to celebrate that holiday concoction that nobody likes or wants.  The people of Manitou Springs, Colorado, have a use for the brick-like desserts: throw them at something.  Each year they host The Great Fruitcake Toss.  There are contests to see who can hurl fruitcakes the farthest or who is most accurate throwing them into baskets.  I think the citizens of Manitou Springs have a good sense of humor.  I’m going to have to visit them on my next trip to Colorado.

December 28th is Holy Innocents Day, which marks the anniversary of the day King Herod killed all of the male citizens of Bethlehem when he realized Jesus had escaped.  Today it is celebrated as a day to pray for the safety, health, and well-being of children.  Seems like a good thing to do over the holidays. Or every day.

December 29th is International Cello Day.  No, not Jell-O – cello.  Who in the heck even knows a cello player?  I think the people at Hallmark, or whomever thinks up these days to celebrate, might have run out of steam by the end of the year.

December 30th is National Bacon Day. Now here’s a day I can get behind.  Bacon is seemingly everywhere, including the Bloody Mary at our local breakfast haunt.  I think I’m going to celebrate accordingly on Friday.  I wouldn’t want the people at the bacon holiday headquarters to think I’m ignoring them.

December 31st is obviously New Year’s Eve, a day for making resolutions, partying with friends or this year, perhaps sitting home with the dog, watching football and celebrating the new year on New York time.  The excitement never ends.

Finally, January 1st is the start of a new year.  Hope always spring eternal with a new year. Despite experience to the contrary, I am always upbeat and looking forward to whatever the new year will bring. Hopefully more bacon and less fruitcake.

My brother and I wish you and yours a very happy 2023 and once again, we want to thank you for subscribing to our blog.  It is truly appreciated.

A Visit from ‘the Hit Man’ in Vegas

by Bob Sparrow

David Foster & Katherine McPhee

Linda and I had a meeting with ‘The Hit Man’ in Las Vegas last weekend.  No, our lives were not in danger, we went to see a David Foster show.  Some of you are saying, “Who’s David Foster?  Isn’t he the guy that wrote “My Old Kentucky Home”? No, that’s Stephen Foster, and although a gifted musician, he died in 1864.  Oh, you mean Foster Brooks.  No, he’s the lovable drunk that had no musical talent and is also no longer with us.

OK, for those not familiar with this Canadian musical genius, composer, arranger, and producer, here’s a quick bio: He has won 16 Grammy Awards, three for Producer of the Year, he has three Emmy nominations, three Oscar nominations for ‘’Best Original Song”, and a Golden Globe Award.  He has created hit songs and award-winning gold and platinum albums for a diverse array of artists, including:

Andrea Bocelli singing The Prayer with Katherine McPhee

Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, who says, “David hears things no other person hears,” Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble, who called Foster “one of the most brilliant musical minds of our time, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Michael Bolton, Seal, Chaka Khan, Kenny Rogers, Josh Groban, who credits him with “single-handedly changing my life.” Dolly Parton, Chicago, (Foster and Chicago singer, Peter Cetera, together wrote a number of Chicago hit songs), Hall & Oates, Brandy, ‘N Sync, Boz Scaggs and Gloria Estefan.  He’s also created soundtracks for movies such as Bodyguard, Urban Cowboy and St. Elmo’s Fire.  He’s now working on a Broadway musical.  Not a bad resume.

His show, An Intimate Evening with David Foster – HITMAN, at the Wynn in Las Vegas, featured his 5th wife, Kathrine McPhee, who was runner-up on the sixth season of American Idol and is 35 years younger than the 75-year-old Foster. He is a classically trained piano player who makes fun of his own singing, because he really can’t sing.  He was also joined on stage by two fabulous singers, Daniel Emmet and Pia Toscano, both past contestants on America’s Got Talent, who you will hear more about in the near future, because they are both very, very good.  Also joining him and singing via live video was Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Kenny G (not singing, but playing his incredible saxophone).  As he banters back and forth with his guests, you just feel like your sitting with him in his

Foster & McPhee

piano room as he talks about his amazing life’s journey.  The combination of great music, great story-telling and witty comedy throughout, made it one of the best shows I’ve ever seen – we were totally entertained every minute!

If you’ve not seen the documentary on this unique genius, go to Netflix and find Off the Record, it is an amazing story; very entertaining – he is a character!

The cherry on top of our quick trip to Las Vegas was that my 49ers were playing the Thursday night football game and I was able to win a nice parlay bet. Sometimes Christmas comes early!

 

FAREWELL TO MY CHRISTMAS CARD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week, as I was playing golf and talking (mostly talking) I mentioned that I might not send out Christmas cards this year. My partners shook their heads and told me they stopped sending holiday greetings years ago.  I guess I’m just late to the party – again.  But as I thought about the annual tradition of keeping up with old friends, it dawned on me that I do that all year long.  Social media and email have completely changed how we keep track of and communicate with each other.  Now, through the miracle of Facebook, I can tell you that my friend down in Atlanta had scrambled eggs for breakfast because she posted a photo of it.   I regularly email with friends throughout the year, so I know of every birth, death, marriage, divorce and trip to the mall.  So, I don’t really need to get a Christmas card or worse yet, a Christmas letter, to know what my friends have been up to.  I know what my friends are doing right down to their scrambled eggs.

I have some general observations about holiday cards, and I admit, I’ve been guilty of doing some of the very things I dislike about the custom.  I see Christmas cards as falling into four major categories.  First are the corporate cards.  You know, the ones from the banker or insurance agent.  The first card we received this year was from our estate attorney.  I don’t know whether he’s sending genuine greetings or he’s waiting for his card to be returned so he can start filing paperwork.  The second category are from distant friends – people that we haven’t seen or spoken with in years, but somehow the need arises to wish each other the very best for the holiday season.  Mostly they are old neighbors or workmates I couldn’t pick out in a crowd.  Am I morally obligated to continue this exchange of well-wishes?  In the past few years there has been a trend toward having their cards printed with their signatures printed on the inside, with a return address sticker on the outside.  Our name and address are printed on an address label and stuck on the envelope. It has all the warmth and personal touch of our utility bill. I admit that I have done this on some cards in the past few years, which is what started me questioning why I’m sending a card at all. The third group are the true friends – the ones we see or keep in touch with all year long.  Heck, some of them are golf partners or good friends with whom we socialize every week.  We will be wishing holiday greetings in person, some of them several times.  Do we really need to send cards too?

The last category is the Christmas letter.  Some of them are really well done.  Some.  But most seem to have turned the holiday tradition of wishing others well into one giant “let’s talk about me” exercise. In general, the problem is that people just don’t know where to stop.  Johnny got into Harvard?  Great.  Snookie was elected president of her third-grade class?  Good for her!  But too often it goes into such minutia that it borders on the ridiculous.  My parents used to receive one that was so full of trivia and self-aggrandizement that we couldn’t wait until we were all gathered on Christmas Eve so that one of us kids (by this time adults and full of “cheer”) could read it in dramatic fashion, everyone breaking into gales of laughter.  There is nothing like reading bowling scores to bring out the holiday spirit.  Each year my husband and I receive a Christmas letter from one of his former co-workers that always includes a litany of the various trips taken, a review of golf handicaps (they always go down, of course), and an update on the career achievements of their four adult children (and spouses!).  Last year they even included the employee count and various office locations of their son’s latest employer.  Seriously. Do they take a moment as they’re writing this to consider whether anyone cares about the headcount in Poughkeepsie? I’m more prone to wonder why the son keeps changing jobs.  I think there’s a story there.

christmas-ornamentPerhaps the best take on Christmas cards was from a friend of our parents back in the 60’s.  They kept every card they received the previous year.  Then they re-addressed it to the sender inserting a note that read “We liked your Christmas card so much last year that we have decided to give you the pleasure of seeing it again this year.  So, we’re sending it back to you.”  Now that is clever.  And it beats using old cards to make ornaments.  As for all the Christmas letters?  They could be shredded into bird cage liner and the circle would be closed.

I have to say, I do like to see photos of people’s kids, grandkids and dogs.  Especially if they are related to me.  Those I treasure and file in a collection in my “family files”.  But while I won’t be sending out cards this year, I reserve the right to change my mind and resume sending them next year.  Especially if I win the Nobel prize or discover the cure for cancer.

One tradition I will always maintain is providing you with Pop’s Christmas Ice Cream Fizz recipe.  I hope you enjoy it as much as our family has over the years.  There is nothing like a little gin to make the holidays just the slightest bit more fun!

 

         A jolly man indeed

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full of 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 everything!

Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg.  As we got older, we would conspire with Pop and ditch the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

Happy Holidays!!

The California Landmark Surprise

by Bob Sparrow

Yosemite’s Fire Fall

Most of us who live in the ‘Golden State’ have visited many of our famous landmarks.  As a native Californian with a severe case of wanderlust, I assumed I’ve visited most, if not all, of them.  So, I turned to Google to see the list of what was classified as ‘famous landmarks’.

Golden Gate Bridge – Since I was born 28 miles north of this landmark, I probably went across this bridge before I was able to walk – CHECK.  Yosemite’s Half Dome – as a kid, our family vacationed here every summer; I was even able to see the amazing ‘Fire Falls’ over Glacier Point many times; and much later in life I was able to hike to the top of Half Dome for that spectacular view – CHECK.  Alcatraz – No, not as a resident!  I took the tour several years ago, barely escaped – CHECK.  Fisherman’s Wharf – of course, and had many great bowls of clam chowder – CHECK.  Lake Tahoe – grew up there – CHECK.  Napa Valley – been over-served there . . . many times – CHECK.  Let’s get to the southern part of the state.  Oh, first let’s cruise on down Big Sur in central California to see that spectacular coastline landmark – CHECK. And I’ve toured Hearst Castle on my way south – CHECK.

Griffith Observatory

OK, so let’s get to some landmarks on the list here in southern California: Griffith Conservatory/ Hollywood Sign – I did those on the same trip a few years back, but they don’t let you near the HOLLYWOOD sign anymore – too many people turning it into HOLLYWEIRD – CHECK.  Santa Monica Pier, Getty Museum, Death Valley, Randy’s Donuts, Disneyland, CHECK, CHECK, CH . . . wait a minute, Randy’s Donuts???!!!  Yes, it’s on the list of famous California landmarks!!  Not only have I not been there, but I’ve never heard of it. I asked Linda if she’s ever heard of it; yes, she had, as she had taught school in intercity LA and later, her work took her to many LA destinations, including Randy’s Donuts.  I came to the realization that my life’s ‘travel check list’ was not complete until I’d been to this ‘famous California Landmark’, Randy’s Donuts.  So, I checked the Internet for the history and locations of Randy’s Donuts.

Enjoying the 400 Calorie Crondy

Randy’s Donuts, which originated in Inglewood, CA, is celebrating it’s 50th year in business this year and out front most stores sport their big, famous donut sign, maybe biggest in the world.  This famous donut sign has appeared in over 18 movies and TV shows as well as Randy Newman’s music video, I Love L.A. The store closest to me that features the ‘famous donut sign’ on top of the building, is in Downey, about a 30-minute drive.  So, last Saturday morning I jumped in my car and headed up the 5 freeway to check off Randy’s Donuts on my list.

My research determined that the piece de resistance at Randy’s is the ‘Crondy’, a cross between a croissant and a donut, weighing in at around 400 calories!  Yep, had to try it – you’re welcome.  It was spectacular!!!

What I don’t do for you guys!!!