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.

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2019)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

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

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

 

Robert Johnson

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

Wayne Bethards

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

 

Jerry Sims

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

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

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was watching “Fosse/Verdon” the other night on TV (well worth viewing) when I spotted something I hadn’t seen in a long time – a cigarette machine.  Until that moment I hadn’t thought about those instruments of death, once so ubiquitous but now almost extinct.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  Clearly the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars was the death knell for them, but seeing one evoked fond memories.  I used to think it was great fun when my dad would give me a quarter to slip into the slot and pull the lever to magically produce his Salem cigarettes.  Of course, back in the ’50’s we had no way of knowing it would eventually lead to his emphysema, but then again, he lived to age 87, most of those years smoking cigarettes and drinking martinis so he had a pretty good – and fun – run.

Seeing something once so prevalent got me to thinking about other items that simply don’t exist any more.  For instance, console TV’s.  I recall getting our first console – maple! – and it taking a prominent position in the family room.  It was considered a piece of furniture, needing to be polished and waxed just like the dining room table.  The picture was always just a bit blurry and we often had to adjust the antenna on the roof, but it beat the green screen we’d had before.  In the late ’60’s my parents splurged and bought a combo console – TV, record player and radio all in one!  In was a behemoth, and I’m sure the sound quality on all three components sucked, but it was a proud possession of my mom until she moved to a retirement home in 2010.  Talk about getting your money’s worth!

 

Although land lines are not yet extinct, they have changed considerably from my teenage years.  Typically they were mounted on a wall or sat on a “telephone table” with a very short cord.  Personal conversations – so critical to any teenager – were impossible.  Where today’s kids beg for a cell phone, my only desire was for my parents to buy a long phone cord.  By exchanging the short cord for the long one I could pick up the phone and take it into my room, close the door, and have all my angst-filled conversations in private.  That said, when we still had the short cord Brother Bob overheard me one day fumbling for a way to turn down a date.  After I hung up, he told me, “Sis, what you say is, ‘I have other plans that night’.  That could mean anything from a date with another guy to washing your hair.”  I have used that line all of my life to gracefully turn down an unwanted event.  So I guess there were advantages to the “family” telephone.  The other advantage is that we didn’t carry it around, ignoring the world around us, or talk on it when we were driving.

 

And while I’m on the subject of phones,  here’s something else you don’t see much anymore – phone booths.  I remember when they were literally on every corner and were an oasis if you needed directions, were running late or simply needed privacy (for those who had short cords).  Kids today don’t realize how easy they have it when they get stuck in traffic on their way to an appointment.  They simply power up the cell phone and call the person to update their status.  We used to frantically search out a phone booth, often times pulling off a freeway in a strange neighborhood or, as I did once, walk a mile to find the nearest phone.  To compound the problem, once you found a phone booth you had to pray that you had the right amount of change in your pocket.  Nothing was worse that placing a call and having the operator (a real live person) tell you to insert 35 cents when all you had was a quarter.  I remember when the phone companies came out with calling cards where you could charge a call to your home phone.  We thought that was the height of technology.  Little did we know that decades later we would be living in a Jetson’s world with a hand-held device that would place calls, display maps, alert us to traffic jams and publicize our outing on social media.

Finally, something not everyone had but we did – a burn barrel.  It was a rusted-out 55 gallon oil drum that was re-purposed into burning leaves in the back yard.  Each fall my dad and his best friend Dick would spend several hours in our yard raking all the leaves into piles.  They would break for lunch and then spend the afternoon shoving all the debris into the burn barrel.  Of course, such strenuous work required a beer so I have wonderful memories of them laughing and burning leaves, almost like two kids playing a fun game.  The smell was wonderful, although God knows what fumes were spewing into the atmosphere.

We’ve certainly made strides over the decades – technology is better, the air is cleaner and we are healthier.  But somehow, given the choice, I’d go back to simpler times, even if I had to have a short cord on the telephone.

 

SPARKING JOY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In case you’ve missed it, organizing is a big trend. You can hardly pick up a magazine or scan the internet without bumping into an article about cleaning out and categorizing.  I think we used to call this Spring Cleaning, but of course now that it’s a trend it has a new name and its own hashtag – #sparkjoy.  Marie Kondo, the author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, started the latest movement and is raking in millions with her books and now her Netflix series, “Tidying Up“.  Seriously, Netflix videos on how to discard and organize.   Her practice is based on the Shinto religion theory of treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object.  So many people are participating in the possession version of Match.Com that thousands of thrift shops around the country are bursting with donations of useless crap that should more properly have been disposed of in a garbage bin.  The Goodwill store in Denver increased their monthly intake by over 500,000 pounds, including discarded tee shirts with armpit stains and underwear with spots that should indeed be unmentionable.

I used to revel in a messy desk and my car was a disaster. My home was just clean enough to pass a health inspection.  I was perfectly happy in my messy little corner of the world until we relocated from California to Arizona.  We had to wait 18 months for our house to be built which necessitated putting three-quarters of our worldly goods into storage. At long last, when the moving company delivered the crates, more than half of the furniture didn’t fit, much of the “stuff” was no longer needed or my tastes had totally changed. Thus, my method of discarding was born. I call it the “Move, Store or Discard” method. Each spring I pretend we’re going to move and determine whether I’d pay to move or store an item.  If not, out it goes.  I never thought about writing a book about it.  But then again, this is not the first boat that’s left the harbor without me.  My method has kept me organized for 20 years.  This year I’ve been focusing on our garage and the kitchen.  I bought several baskets from Amazon and sorted my pantry into categories – baking, cereals, canned goods, cleaning products, etc.  As you can see from the photo, just about everything has a place and is easy to find.  A friend stopped by to see what I was doing and after gazing at my handiwork for a moment she slowly turned to me and said, “I think you might be slightly OCD”.  Yup.

Ms. Kondo suggests that if an item doesn’t “spark joy” it should be donated or discarded.  She further says that we should thank the item for the role it’s played in our lives, suggesting that is a way of properly saying goodbye, so that you can recognize the end of your relationship with it and release it without guilt.  Honestly, I have enough trouble recognizing my relationships with people, much less household appliances. Take my rice cooker, for example.  I just donated that last week because I haven’t used it in a few years.  Why in the hell should I thank it?  It was minimally useful to me and has just been lounging in the back of the cabinet for years contributing nothing to the household.  Thank it?  Good riddance is more like it.  I longingly looked at my floor mop and, as hard as I tried, I could not spark joy looking at it.  I don’t even spark joy at the clean floors after I use it.  But there it sits, in its thankless state, perhaps in hope that one day it will receive its due.  It may be waiting a long time.

I tend to agree more with Joshua Becker, the best-selling author on minimalism, who argues that possessions shouldn’t have that much meaning in our lives to begin with.  Yes, he’s a big proponent of de-cluttering, but for the purpose of making your life more joyous.  His bottom line question is whether the possession is helping to fulfill a larger purpose.  So instead of ridding yourself of 17 old shirts, only to go out and buy 17 new ones, now neatly organized by color in your closet, he proposes that we just pare down to what is useful and meaningful to ourselves or others.  It’s a lot to think about.  But it sure beats time spent contemplating your relationship with a rice cooker.

 

SNAKES IN THE GRASS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Desert blooms…and pollen

 

Spring in Arizona means three things…wildflowers, allergies and snakes.  This past week our winter weather finally came to a close.  After record rainfall and freezing temperatures (including snow!) we can finally break out our sleeveless tops and Bermuda shorts.  Also top of mind is that we should have done more bicep curls and leg squats all winter, but that’s a topic for another day.  With April we find that patios are once again used for wine sipping and lounging.  Sounds great, right?  After all, this glorious weather is what brought us to Arizona to begin with.  But there are a lot of downsides to Spring in the desert.  While I know I won’t get any sympathy from those friends in the Midwest who are still digging out from blizzards and dirty, melting snow, we desert rats have our challenges too.  And it’s more than shoveling sunshine.

 

     The lovely, annoying Palo Verde tree

First, I have to say that the brightly colored flowers and blooming trees so ubiquitous this time of year are one of the true treasures of the Sonoran desert.  Every cactus seems to have it’s own unique flower, each more spectacular than the next.  The Palo Verde trees are a riot of yellow blooms that are gorgeous to view – from INSIDE the house.  Because these lovely works of nature’s bounty bring with them allergies of gargantuan proportions.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t using some sort of nasal spray or allergy tablet.  Even those who have taken dramatic steps to curb allergies can be found with Kleenex stuffed in every pocket and eyes that stream from morning ’til night.  The local Walgreens can barely keep the allergy meds in stock and our noses have begun to look like W.C. Fields on a bad day.  The experts are telling us it will be a bad allergy season because the heavy rainfall has caused an abundance of blooms.  From April until June we venture out of the house at our own risk…there is so much pollen in each tree now that on a windy day it can blow for several blocks.

      The rattlesnake, playing through

My second caution of the season is the annual awakening of the rattlesnakes.  This was brought home to me last week when playing the second hole of our golf course.  There, in the middle of the fairway, we came upon a huge rattlesnake.  Usually they are resting comfortably under bushes or rocks but this guy was in the grass sunning himself, probably critiquing our golf swing.  Our partners, who were looking into the distance and not at the ground, stopped right next to the snake.  As we shouted for them to move the cart, the snake began to coil and hiss.  Never a good sign.  No one was hurt but it was a sure sign that these vipers of the desert are out and we need to be cautious.  Their appearance is good news for the local golf stores as it means that no one with any common sense wanders into the brush to look for a lost ball.  I lost two on Tuesday and as far as I’m concerned the snakes can have them.

Rattlesnakes are scary, that’s for sure.  But Spring also brings our big golf tournaments and another snake in the grass – the Sandbagger.  So between pollen, snakes and cheaters, I’m glad I have some indoor hobbies to keep me occupied.  The good news is the pollen dries up and the winter visitors with their bogus handicaps go away in June.  The bad news? Living here will be equivalent to being in a microwave oven.  You can’t have everything.