HAPPY NATIONAL “COLOR THE WORLD ORANGE” DAY!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’m going to guess you were unaware that today is National Color the World Orange Day or that last Saturday was National Deviled Egg Day.  Really.  I wasn’t aware of it either until I saw a random post on Facebook about it.  Had I known I would have whipped up a batch to snack on.  Or not – they’re a pain in the neck to make and by the time I load in heaps of mayonnaise I’m not sure the nutritional value is all that great.  But it dawned on me that we seem to be celebrating some obscure item or event every day.  Turns out, there actually are “National Day” calendars that will keep you up on date on what you should be feting on any given day.  As one might expect, some days are better than others.  National Cupcake Day, for instance, beats the heck out of National Sauerkraut Day.  Frankly, I have enough trouble remembering the real holidays, you know, like President’s Day and Labor Day, without throwing deviled eggs into the mix.  But I find this time of year when I have already been bombarded with Christmas decorations everywhere I go, perhaps a little diversion isn’t a bad thing.  So here are some upcoming “days” that might be worth marking on your calendar.

November 14th is National Family Pajama Day. Frankly, I think the timing of this day is a bit suspicious.  After all, lots of families buy matching pj’s for Christmas and ordering them mid-November allows for delivery before the Christmas Tree goes up.  I suspect the pajama industry is behind this one.  November 22 is National Cranberry Relish Day, followed by Eat A Cranberry Day on the 23rd.  I think someone didn’t reach too far to come up with those “celebrations”.  Perhaps the “day” that makes the most sense is November 27th – National Tie One On Day.  It is celebrated each year on the day before Thanksgiving.  Anyone who has ever hosted Thanksgiving with battling relatives or, worse yet, people with 87 different food allergies/requirements needs to go into the holiday with as much fortification as possible.  Speaking of which, November 28th is not only Thanksgiving Day this year, but according to the “day” calendar it is also “National Turkey-Free Thanksgiving Day“.  What the hell is the point of that?

For those of you who work, November 30 is National Stay At Home Because You’re Well day.  The theory is if you’re feeling well then you should play hooky from work and go do something enjoyable.  My dirty little secret is that I used to do this every July. I highly recommend it.  As we swing into December you’ll be happy to know that December 1 is not only National Pie Day but, not so coincidentally, it’s National Eat a Red Apple Day so you can knock out two celebrations in one.  December 8th is National Time Traveler Day and I suspect there are many of us who would like to time travel our way right into the middle of January.  December 13 is National Make Friends with a Pathologist Day which they recommend observing by making friends with a pathologist or a coroner.  Sounds a little creepy to me. For those of you who watched “Seinfeld” you’ll be happy to celebrate December 23rd as Festivus – the holiday for the rest of us.

December 30th is National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, which seems like it ought to be observed either the day after Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day, but hey, I’m not the one making up the calendar.  In fact, the whole “day” calendar thing seems a bit goofy to me  I’m sure the trade groups are behind most of them.  So I’m going to go on celebrating the traditional holidays and give a nod to just one of the “days” – August 26th is National Love Your Dog Day.  Now that’s something worth celebrating!

 

 

MY BROTHER IS IN A FOG

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Yes, it’s me again.  My brother has a good excuse for being absent this morning.  In fact, one could even say he has been in a fog.  This past week he was playing a special role –  Father of Groom. His youngest child, and only son, Jeff, got married over the weekend.  It was a fabulous affair but I’m not going to provide any spoilers.  My brother will be back next week with a full description of the festivities and pictures of the highlights.  Instead, I’m going to follow up on my post of last week because several of you (okay, maybe it was three) asked me for recommendations for the British shows I’m streaming in lieu of the news.  I’ll start with some of the ones I’ve already watched and then provide the results of my research on the subject.  Fair warning:  everyone has different tastes.  For example, Fleabag on Amazon’s Prime Video ran away with the Emmy awards.  I watched two episodes and just couldn’t get excited about it.  So, for better or worse, here are my recommendations.

  1. Downton Abby (Amazon) – This is first because it’s so obvious.  You need to watch this if you are at all interested in English lifestyles and good acting.  There’s a reason it was renewed for six seasons and now is a feature film.  It has some unexpected twists and the high-arch eyebrow of Maggie Smith’s tart observations.
  2. Victoria (Amazon and PBS) – This is still a current offering from the PBS Masterpiece Theater program, with Season 4 due out this winter.  But you can catch up on the first three seasons on Amazon.  Again, great history and the bonus of getting to see Victoria’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dash, for whom my CKCS was named.
  3. The Crown (Netflix and HBO) – Just when you thought this series couldn’t get any better they announced that the delightful and very talented Olivia Coleman is going to take over the role of Queen Elizabeth and the quirky Helena Bonham Carter will play Princess Margaret in the next season.  I can’t wait!
  4.  Broadchurch (Netflix) – speaking of Olivia Coleman, she co-stars in this murder mystery that carries on over three seasons.  Well worth watching.  In fact, I recommended it to a friend and she thanked me for it.  So…you’re welcome.
  5.  The Fall (Netflix) – hurry up if you want to watch this because it goes off of Netflix at the end of October.  Like Broadchurch, it is a three season series that continues the same storyline about a mass murderer in Belfast throughout all three seasons.  Okay, not exactly light viewing but it stars Gillian Anderson and she is reason enough to watch.
  6.  The Great British Baking Show (Netflix) – I needed something a little joyful after watching The Fall so what better to turn to than this wonderful show that features 12 bakers each season vying to become the best baker in Britain.  After all, there is cake involved.  Lots of cake.  The contestants are engaging and it’s actually interesting to compare desserts across the pond from what we typically serve here.  The first few seasons featured the lovely Mary Cherry (yes, that’s really her name) but frankly all of the hosts and comedians they feature on the show have been terrific.
  7.  Sherlock (Netflix) – This program aired on PBS for a few years but now you can stream all four seasons.  The plots are always tricky, as in hard to figure out, and Benedict Cumberbatch is so fun to watch.  There are rumors about a Season 5 – let’s hope so.
  8. Poldark (Amazon) – Again, this is a Masterpiece Theater program that is currently showings the fifth and final season on PBS, but you can catch up on the first four seasons on Amazon.  The series takes place in Cornwall and the stunning views of the cliffs and countryside alone make it worth watching.  The story is very compelling – good guys vs. bad, poor vs rich, workers vs dandies.  WELL worth watching.
  9. Call the Midwife (Netflix) – For a wonderful throw-back show you can’t do much better than this  The series starts in the 1950’s, featuring midwives in East London, still riding bicycles to their appointments and delivering babies at home.  This show is also still current, with the latest season taking place in the mid-60’s.  It is fascinating to follow the progression of societal norms and maternity practices, not to mention hairstyles and music, over that decade.

I could go on keep going but I do want to get to some of the shows that came up in just about every result in my research for “best British shows to stream”.  So, here they are in no particular order:  The Bodyguard (Netflix), A Very English Scandal (Amazon), Peaky Blinders (Netflix), Lovesick (Netflix), Happy Valley (Netflix), Luther (Netflix), The IT Crowd (Netflix), Father Brown (Netflix) and Doc Martin (Acorn).  

Finally, if you want to skip back to this side of the pond and feel good about yourself, Netflix offers Nailed It!, an American take-off on the British baking shows.  The contestants are shown a lovely dessert drawn from the impossible-to-replicate photos on Pinterest and then asked to create it.  There are three seasons ready for streaming and it’s worth watching for the humor and to see just how out of touch people are about their baking abilities. Honestly, by the end you’ll feel so much better about your lopsided birthday cake.

If you have any recommendations please share them in the “Comments” section here.  After all, we’re going into an election year and we need to get prepared.

 

ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO SPEW

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I met up with a friend at the gym last week and as she was whirling away on the stationary bike she tried to find an unbiased news report on one of the five TV’s in front of her.  “Where do you go to get unbiased news”, she asked, as she swiveled between CNN, Fox and MSNBC.   “Sesame Street”, I responded, “it tells me everything I need to get by in life”.  I was only half-kidding but it is a subject I’ve been thinking about in this increasingly divisive atmosphere we’re in.  As my brother correctly pointed out last week, we are Presbyterians so we don’t wade into the political fray in this forum.  However, I will observe that every network seems to have camped out on one part of the divide or the other and they’re all getting richer for it.  The networks obviously pander to their audience, grasping for ratings and ad revenue at the expense of our edification.

 

I know I’m not the only one who is disgusted by the news coverage.  Sure, I could watch C-SPAN all day long but that smacks of being a bit too nerdy, not to mention my tolerance for windbags is at low ebb right now.  I consulted my friend, Google, and found several charts that basically tell us what we already know – a few organizations (mostly print) try for impartiality, but most fall into either left-or-right leaning, and then there’s a whole category on the bottom of both sides that is garbage.  So, where DO we go?  I found a website, allsides.com, that provides articles on the same subject by left, center and right leaning print media.  That seems like a whole lot of reading for me.  I’m trying to think of a subject that would interest me enough to read three articles about it.  Outside of the Food section, I couldn’t think of one.   One could always go to mediabiasfactcheck.com but there are a LOT of ads and it’s a bit distracting.  Snopes, of course, has been the go-to for figuring out internet and Facebook claims but there are wide-ranging topics one has to wade through, such as today’s top question: Can the snakehead fish survive on land?  I’m sure that’s of great interest to the snakehead fish, but I venture it’s of limited interest to everyone else.

What I really long for are newscasts that present information in a factual way, and then have really smart people debate the issue in-depth so that I can sort through the facts and form my own opinion.  For those of us of a certain age, we can recall the 60 Minutes segment, Point/Counterpoint featuring Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick.  It was good old-fashioned sparring over a new topic each week and was always good entertainment as well.  So good, in fact, that it spawned the Saturday Night Live parody of it featuring Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin.  Its seminal line may have been, “Jane, you ignorant slut”.  Mark Shields and David Brooks do a political point/counterpoint on the Friday night edition of The PBS News Hour, but somehow, it just isn’t the same.

The upshot of all this is I barely watch the news at all anymore.  I read a bit and try to vary my periodicals so I get different opinions.  I’m saving my TV watching for Netflix.  I just looked up the 20 most popular British TV series, many of which have multiple seasons available for viewing.  The advantage of the British shows is that you get to hear that glorious accent and there aren’t any references to American politics.  I’m hoping these shows will keep me occupied though the 2020 election. If not, there’s always BritBox.

 

 

 

FROM HEAVENLY TO HELOISE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

              What we’re missing

I hope you’ve all recovered from my brother’s trip to Italy.  It sounds like it was truly the trip of a lifetime and I’m so glad we could go with him on the journey.  I had hoped to take you along this week on our trip to Mammoth Lakes but, alas, my husband had a small procedure on his calf that prevented us from going.  So, the picture you see here is from our trip a few years ago just so you can see what you’re missing.  Actually, I was okay with cancelling our trip since I’m still on a mission to re-do every room in the house.  I have entertained myself this whole, long, hot summer by buying things and moving furniture around.  Neither Dash the Wonder Dog nor my husband are quite as entertained by this as I have been, what with their stumbling into things in the night and having to sniff out new napping spots.  I let you guess which one is doing what.

Sun Valley Escape

In any event, all my staying home and working on the house these past few months has produced some “Aha!” moments that I thought I’d pass along.  After all, we here at A Bird’s Eye View pride ourselves in providing lots of useless information just to add more clutter to everyone’s already overloaded memory.  The first product I found this summer is a game-changer for anyone who loves to hang, and then re-hang, pictures.  A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to get some great shots of our trip to Sun Valley and decided to blow about 10 of them up into canvas prints.  I also have a little room we use as a library where I had hung numerous family photos.  In my frenzy this summer I decided everything needed a new home but that left me with lots of little holes in walls.  I know, I could use Command strips but I once had a picture fall from one and ruin a baseboard so I’m not a fan.  Enter a little miracle worker – 3M Patch Plus Primer 4-in-1.

The four components of it are: spackle, primer, putty knife and sander.  YES!!  All in one tube.  You simply put a drop cloth down in case you’re a klutz like me, squeeze the tube to place a little of the spackle/primer in the nail hole, smooth it with the other end of the tube which is creatively fashioned like a putty knife, let it dry for a few minutes and then sand it with the end of the tube cap (which is covered with sand paper).  I was nervous the first time I tried it, but by the third hole I was walking around the house looking for things to spackle.  I repaired nicks in baseboards (see above comment about Command strips) and dents in door moldings.  It was like crack cocaine – nothing escaped my 4-in-1.  Then I broke out the paint cans and touched up when I’d spackled and – voila! – good as new.  It so far exceeded my expectations and was so simple to use that it made we wonder why more companies don’t come up with great products like this.  I’m thinking maybe the painter’s union wouldn’t like this because it certainly cuts into the amount of times you have to call in the reinforcements for nail holes.

The second product I found this summer is the Rock Doctor Cleaner and Polisher for natural stone .  I think I’ve mentioned that we had a travertine dining table sanded and resealed a couple of months ago so while I had the guy here I asked about doing my granite counter tops.  He told me he wouldn’t take my money (already I liked this guy) and referred me to the Rock Doctor brand of products.  Both Home Depot and Lowe’s carries it so it’s easily available.  I’ve been using it ever since and my countertops are as good as when they were new.  Ironically, you have to wipe down the counter before you use the cleaner, which to me is a bit like cleaning before the cleaning person comes, but I guess it’s to eliminate anything that might scratch the surface.  The Polisher sprays on like car wax and then you buff it in the same way – brings back memories of when I used to keep my car in better condition.

Anyway, those are my handy tips from the summer.  It’s not Italy.  Shoot – it’s not even Mammoth Lakes.  But I can guarantee that you won’t have holes in your walls or dull stone and that’s worth something!

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!

 

 

 

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.

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!

COPENHAGEN IN CALIFORNIA?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

While my brother was taking you on his magnificent cruise we were spending some time over on the Central Coast of California, as we do most summers.  This week we decided to venture down to Solvang, the quaint little town that is known for its Danish heritage and bakeries.  Bakeries?  Shoot, I’ve never been known to turn down a good bakery visit.

“Solvang” is a Danish word meaning “sunny field”, a distinction that will become important in a moment.  The town was founded in 1911 on about 9,000 acres by a group of Danish-American educators who traveled west to establish a Danish community far from the midwestern winters.  So, unlike the rest of the Scandahoovians who stayed up in Minnesota, the Danes sought out sunny fields.  The Swedes and the Norwegians can argue all day about who is smarter but I think we can all agree that the Danes take the pastry on this one.

Obviously the Danes were not the first to discover this beautiful area.  The original settlers were the Chumash tribe, whose members still live there today and, among other things, run one of the most successful casinos in California.  Solvang was also home to one of the original California missions, Santa Ines, which was built in 1804 and stood until an earthquake in 1812 destroyed much of the mission and the bell tower.  Over the years it was rebuilt and today is an important tourist attraction.

In 1914 the Danes established a “folk” school in Solvang, one of the few that existed in the US at the time.  The curriculum was designed to teach Danish-speaking students in their late teens how to lead more meaningful lives with an emphasis on lectures, singing, gymnastics, fellowship and folk dancing.  Sounds like a lot more fun than calculus and 4th year Latin.  But with the onset of WWI, Danish immigration to the US dropped and it became harder to support a Danish-speaking school.  In 1921 the building was sold to the Lutheran church and continued to host a wide variety of community functions until its demolition in 1970.

Solvang is now primarily a tourist destination – a million of them visit the town every year.  I think most of them were there the same week we were.  I heard accents from every part of the world and huge bus tours blighted the view of the picturesque buildings.  Most people come to Solvang to see what is advertised as an authentic Danish village reproduced in California – a miniaturized version of the Little Mermaid, a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and four windmills dot the main road through town.  Most of the businesses and homes in town are inspired by the Danish half-timbered architecture, which is what makes it such a unique attraction.  The center of town also features a Christmas shop and when we visited the outside of it was a mash-up of Christmas and the 4th of July.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Solvang also garnered much attention after the movie “Sideways” was released.  Many of the critical scenes were filmed in Solvang, including those at the Hitching Post restaurant which is just three miles outside of town.  The movie bought unprecedented interest to Solvang and the wines that are produced in the region.  Seriously, can you even look at a bottle of merlot and not think of “Sideways”?

But of course, I wasn’t there for the wine…I was there for the bakeries!  I sat outside Mortensen’s Bakery with Dash the Wonder Dog while my husband went to buy us one pastry to share.  After all, even Solvang isn’t worth totally blowing my diet.  A few minutes later out he came out with two HUGE chocolate-almond pastries.  And, well, not wanting to be impolite to the local Danish bakers, we devoured them both.  I don’t know what they do in Denmark to make the pastry so flaky and delicious – I’m sure it has to do with lots of butter or lard or something I just don’t want to know about.

All in all, it was a fun time, somewhat educational and definitely worth the trip.  I think I need to do more research next week and just might accidentally stumble into another chocolate-almond pastry.

THE JOY OF DOING NOTHING

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

With a backyard like this, why leave?

For the past several years we have made the trek to Denver to spend time with family. Denver is beautiful and the snow on the peaks of the Rockies this year is especially spectacular. On past visits we have seen the Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, Boulder, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and the restored Union Station in downtown Denver. We have strolled the cute downtown area of Cherry Creek and scoped out the golf courses down in Castle Pines. In other words, we have seen a lot! So on this trip our goal was to just enjoy family time. A goal, I’m happy to say, that we achieved with much success.

First, we had a lot to celebrate. Our oldest grandchild just graduated from high school, the youngest turned 16 while we were there, and our kids will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary next week. So in great part we just reveled in the joy of being at this point…everyone happy, healthy and enjoying life. Who needs to go anywhere??

           Great times with great kids

Second, the reason we settle into our “happy place” while we’re there is that the backyard of the kids’ house would rival any park of scenic vista we could go visit. Give me Dash the Wonder Dog, a cup of coffee, a good book and life is good when I’m sitting out there. Add some good conversations and I’m as happy as a pig in slop.

Which brings me to what we did do – eat. Denver has tremendous restaurants and we’ve become regulars at some each time we visit. Hillstone is a great place for delicious salads, juicy burgers and fries that will put you off your diet with one whiff. We enjoyed a great dinner at Jing, an elegant Chinese restaurant where one can order the Kobe steak “signature dish”, thinly sliced pieces that you cook yourself over a hot sizzling rock. Kind of a Chinese version of fondue.  Our grandson ordered it and marveled that it was only $35 for an entire platter of premium steak. He mused that it must be so cheap because you have to cook it yourself. When the bill came my husband handed it to me because I was the one with reading glasses. I couldn’t imagine how our bill had climbed so high until I read the details. Unfortunately, that “signature dish” was ordered by the ounce, a little detail that had been overlooked. So…the “good deal” was $105! Our grandson was mortified but we got a good laugh about it.

Our last night out we went to Shanahan’s – founded by former Bronco coach Mike Shanahan. It’s a fun steakhouse and we’ve never been there when both the bar and the dining room weren’t packed. They specialize in steaks but their fish, salads and sides are equally good. The best part? Our son-in-law picked up the tab!

Mostly we spent enjoyable time at home – talking, catching up, watching some playoff games and walking the neighborhood. For five days I was reminded that sometimes the best place to go is the backyard.