DASH THE WONDER DOG TURNS 10

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an empty space we don’t even know we have.”  Thom Jones

           An Irresistible face

Tap. Tap. Tap. I wake each morning to paws gently tapping my shoulder. I roll over and Dash the Wonder Dog’s face is one inch from mine, with an expectant look on his face.  I roll over and obediently scratch his ears.  He has me well trained.  I bid him a good morning and ask how his sleep was.  He response is 100 kisses – just to make sure I’m awake and to alert me that he’s ready to start his day.  This is his morning routine, and whether I have had 8 hours or 8 minutes of sleep, it never varies.  On the mornings when my sleep has been closer to 8 minutes, I wonder why I have let this dog take over my life.  I resent, just for a moment, that once I have let him out to sniff and pee, he curls up on the sofa, rests his head on his soft blanket, and falls blissfully back to sleep.  I, on the other hand, put extra coffee in the pot.

           Dash – 2nd from left

Ten years ago, on November 16, 2012, I received a message from Dash’s breeder that he and his four brothers had been born.  She sent me a photo of them, snuggled up together, looking a bit like tiny guinea pigs.  I didn’t yet know which one would come home with me, but it didn’t matter – I loved them all instantly.  I had waited a long time to own another dog and pledged that this dog would be special.  Little did I know I really had no choice in the matter.  Dogs have a way of wriggling into your heart and staking their claim on your soul.  In January 2013, I drove to the breeder’s home to select which dog would be mine.  Of course, what really happened is Dash chose me.  As I stood in the backyard, with dogs and puppies romping and vying for attention, Dash came up and scratched on my pant leg.  I picked him up, he gave me a lick, and I was done.  Dash was my dog, and I was his person.

“What do dogs do on their day off? Can’t lie around – that’s their job.” – George Carlin

             Dash’s first day home

We brought him home on February 3, 2013. I vowed early on that I wasn’t going to be a sap about this dog.  Who was I kidding? I was a sap by the time we backed out of the breeder’s driveway. From that first day, Dash has lived up to the nickname for Cavaliers – he is a “comfort spaniel”. No matter how bad a day we might have had, it is impossible to remain sad or depressed when greeted at the door by his wagging tail and twirling body. My husband and I vie over who gets to sit next to him on the couch.  Dash doesn’t care, he is an equal opportunity snuggler.  He plasters himself next to us and miraculously transforms into a 1,000 lb. dog – absolutely immovable.

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”  Andy Rooney

       Dash visiting a WWII hero

We acknowledge that over the past ten years he has put a crimp in our social life. Spending an evening with Dash, vs dinner with someone blathering on about their hook shot on the 10th hole, is not even a fair fight.  Our friends tease us that they have met the “Dash bar” when we go out rather than stay home.  But we are not the only ones who are smitten by him. He has put smiles on faces wherever he goes, especially when he worked at the Vi Care Center, bringing some sunshine to people who didn’t see much of it.  We have taken him everywhere we traveled, and as luck would have it, he loves car rides.  He doesn’t really care where we go, as long as he is with us.  He is the reason we have met people from all parts of the world, who engage us in just enough conversation to justify their real reason for stopping – to pet Dash. He made friends with a little girl from England in Squaw Valley, and he snookered the people in the gift shop in Sun Valley to give him treats every time he passed by.

                        My sweet boy

When we first brought Dash home, I told my husband that I’d be happy if he lived ten years.  After all, most Cavaliers suffer from mitral valve disease, so their lifespan can be shorter.  Two years ago, Dash was diagnosed with it.  He is on medication and so far, it seems to be keeping the disease at bay.  He still loves to play fetch every night.  Mostly I do the fetching, as he manages to put his toy exactly one foot beyond my reach.  I can almost see him laugh as I heft myself off the couch to retrieve it.  He would do this for an hour, but oftentimes my knees give out before he does.

His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever—in case I need him. And I expect I will—as I always have.  Gene Hill

Dash the Wonder Dog at 10

And now that he is 10, of course I want more time.  I want more snuggles and kisses, more twirls when I get home, more waking in the night to his chainsaw-like snoring.  I dread the day when I won’t wake to the tap, tap, tap on my shoulder.  But for now, we’re taking it a day at a time, and enjoying each day to the fullest. At night, before we tuck in, I set Dash up on the bed and review our day – where we went (nowhere), what we did (nap and eat) and any special people we might have seen (the crazy dog down the street).  And then I tell him how much he is loved.  I bury my face in the scruff of his neck and tell him what a good boy he is and how blessed we are to have him in our lives.

I’ve done nothing to deserve this sweet, gentle boy, and yet he chose to grace me with his presence.  For that, I am the luckiest person on earth. Happy 10th birthday to my most cherished companion!

AN INTERVIEW WITH SUZANNE

By Bob Sparrow and Suzanne Sparrow Watson

We’re changing our format a bit this week.  With the publication of the book Suzanne co-authored, Before All Is Said and Done, Bob thought it might be interesting to learn a bit about the writing process and how the book is faring now that it’s been on the market for a month.  So, the following is a discussion we had about the book – how it was written and how it’s doing. 

Bob:  How is it you came to write a book with Pat?

Suzanne: Pat is a good friend and for many years she was my next-door neighbor in Scottsdale.  After her husband died, she experienced many problems, most of which she had not anticipated.  As she spoke with other people, she discovered she was not alone – either they had similar experiences or knew someone who had.  Pat is a seasoned journalist who has won numerous awards for her in-depth interviews, so her natural inclination was to talk with people and write about the problems widowed people encounter, and perhaps more importantly, with experts about how to avoid those problems.

Pat knew that I had previously written a book, and of course is a loyal subscriber to this blog, so once she decided to write a book, she called me and said, “Here’s my idea and I’d like you to help me write it.”  It was a daunting thought at first, but I love to write, plus it was smack dab in the middle of the Covid lockdown – what else was I going to do?  So, I agreed to give it a go.

Bob:  How long did it take to write the book?
Suzanne:  All told it took two years from that first conversation to the publication of the book.  When we began the process, we weren’t certain what format the book would take or how it might all come together.  We did some market research and learned that most books for widowed people either focused solely on grief or were written from one person’s perspective.  We knew we wanted to include stories from a wide range of people on a variety of subjects.  We began interviewing people to see what kind of information we collected.  I conducted a couple of interviews, but it became clear that interviewing people was Pat’s forte, while writing was more in my lane.  We sort of fell into dividing up the work that way and it worked out perfectly.
Bob: What was the writing process like?
Suzanne:  It was a real eye-opener to me that how people express themselves in conversation during an interview is much different than how one reads.  When you are speaking with someone you might jump from topic to topic, circle back to something previously discussed, or not discuss things in their logical sequence.  That’s just how we all converse.  But when you are reading a narrative there needs to be clarity and a logical order to the information.  Pat would write the draft of the introductions and then sent me the transcripts of her interviews to weave into narrative form.  That was challenging, but once I got the hang of it, it became easier over time.
Bob:  How are sales going?
Suzanne:  Really well!  We won’t get firm numbers until the end of the quarter (this is standard in publishing), but we became the #1 “bestseller” on day one in the Estates and Trusts category on Amazon and have remained there for the past month.  Recently we have also been ranked #1 in the Grief and Bereavement and Love and Loss categories.  The book is definitely striking a chord with people and we’re very happy that people find it helpful.
Bob:  Why do you think it has resonated with so many people?
Suzanne:  People have asked me that a lot this past month.  The feedback I’m getting is that the book provides a vehicle to have conversations with a loved one or family members on a subject that typically has not been a comfortable topic of conversation.  As a Baby Boomer myself, I’ve now come to equate it to when The Joy of Sex was first published in 1972.  Prior to its publication no one really talked about sex in the way the book suggested.  It became a huge best seller so clearly people were willing to read about it, even if they didn’t openly talk about it.  I think we have done the same thing for preparing for a death.  Certainly not as fun, but just as thought-provoking!
Bob: Can people only order the book on Amazon?
Suzanne:  People can order on Amazon, or they can order through their local bookstore.
Bob: This is your second published book, what was your first one about?
Suzanne:  My first book, In the Enemy’s Camp, was really written as a gift to my mother-in-law.  She was a beautiful writer and kept a diary during her three years as a detainee in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.  Her strength and courage were remarkable, especially considering my father-in-law was very sick much of the time and she had to care for her two children, my husband and his brother, who were one and four years old when they went into the camp.  I took her diary and turned it into a book that incorporates the historical events occurring at the time.  I published the book before my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday and she had a ball going to book signings and speaking at clubs about it.  By far the best gift I’ve ever given! Amazingly, 17 years after publication people are still buying it on Amazon.
Bob:  Any future books in the works? 
Suzanne:  Well, as they say, “never say never”!  Pat and I have joked about writing a sequel.  There are a lot of people who struggle after the death of a loved one with moving forward and creating a new life.  We heard that a lot from widowed people – the “what do I do next?” problem.  At this point we have no plans to write the sequel, but as we’ve learned, you never know what the future might bring!
If you are interested in learning more about the book, or purchasing it, here is a link to the Amazon page:
If you do buy the book from Amazon, please take a minute to give it a review.  It really helps!

LOST AND CONFUSED IN THE ICE CREAM AISLE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

How many choices do you need?

My love of cake notwithstanding, sometimes in the summer months I indulge in ice cream.  Not long ago I was perusing the ice cream aisle at the supermarket and as I scanned the freezer shelves, I marveled at the options: full fat, slow-churned, low fat, sugar free, sherbet, gelato, ices, soy ice cream, rice ice cream, oat milk ice cream, and on and on.  The flavors were as varied as the types, ranging from French Vanilla (it’s never just “vanilla” anymore) to Phish Food (which tastes better than it sounds).  I was so overwhelmed that I came home empty-handed, once again convinced that my love of cake, in part, exists because it is so much simpler than ice cream.

 

My favorite!

I thought back to when I was a kid and ice cream was our nightly dessert.  Our mother was not a baker, but she could buy a mean container of ice cream.  There were no fancy flavors back then; we either had chocolate or vanilla.  Some families had strawberry, but we saw little attraction in that.  Our neighbors had an ice cream churn and made fresh fruit ice cream all summer long, but I didn’t trust anything that didn’t come out of a cardboard box.  Our family was split as to flavors; our dad, Bob and I liked chocolate, while our mom and brother Jack liked vanilla.  I hated it when mom served vanilla until Bob taught me to pour a generous heap of Hershey’s chocolate sauce over it and blend until – voila! – it turned to chocolate.

The Novato Creamery on the main street in town

It was always a special occasion when I got to go out for ice cream.  Our dad’s shop was just down the street from the Borden’s Novato Creamery.  Occasionally mom would drop me off with dad while she ran errands and then he and I would sneak down to the Creamery. I still remember the horseshoe-shaped counter and Betty, the nice waitress who greeted us with a dimpled smile.  We always ordered a chocolate milk shake.  To my dad’s everlasting credit, he never made me share.  We would watch as Betty placed the ice cream and milk into the Hamilton Beach blender’s metal cups. We not only each got a shake, but it was at the Creamery I was introduced to that wonderful tradition of the “sidecar”.  Back in the day before corporate accountants figured out exactly how much ice cream and milk would fit into a milk shake glass, there was always a bit of shake left in the metal cup.  The frosty “sidecar” was placed next to the full glass, as if taunting us to finish the whole thing.  We always did.

Twiggy. I hate her.

The Creamery eventually closed, in part due to the newly opened Berkeley Farms, a diner that served up legendary banana splits.  Then in 1966 a new company – Baskin-Robbins – opened in our town.  We gazed in wonderment at their flavors. Thirty-one! Prior to that we thought Spumoni was the most exotic ice cream available.  My best friend and I became regulars at BR.  She liked Mint Chocolate Chip and I liked Jamoca Almond Fudge. It wasn’t unusual to find us on a weekend night drinking TAB and eating an entire container of BR ice cream.  Then in 1967 our love affair with ice cream came to a crashing halt.  Twiggy burst onto the scene and became the fashion icon of our time.  As teenage girls we were influenced by supermodels and strived to be like her.  And for the first time in my life, I was introduced to that most evil of entities – the calorie count.  Turns out that a double scoop of Jamoca Almond Fudge contains 540 calories.  Clearly, I was not going to look like Twiggy if I maintained my ice cream habit, so ice cream became forbidden in my quest to look like a Q-tip.   It was at this point I turned to cake.  Those wonderful people at the bakery figured out that one can blissfully eat cake if there is no calorie count on the container.

I feel sorry for today’s kids with all of the ice cream choices.  I recall an interior designer telling me once that people should only have three choices in any product; more than that becomes overwhelming and oftentimes causes inaction.  Kids faced with today’s plethora of frozen treats must go into sensory overload.   In a world already overstimulated by social media and streaming services, I think we’d be doing the kids a favor by going back sixty years when chocolate and vanilla ruled the world.  As long as there is Hershey’s chocolate sauce on the vanilla.

 

BEFORE ALL IS SAID AND DONE

In October 2020, my friend and neighbor, Pat Miles Zimmerman, returned to Arizona from her summer home in Minneapolis with an idea for a book.  Pat’s husband, Bucky, had died of pancreatic cancer in February 2019, just three months after receiving his diagnosis.  When Bucky’s doctor advised Pat and Bucky to get their affairs in order, they thought their affairs were in order.  But as it turned out, they had been set for life, but not for death.  After Bucky died, Pat experienced a plethora of problems, many of which she had not anticipated.  As Pat spoke with friends about her experience, she learned that she was not alone: very few people prepare to leave this world.  And yet…we’re all going to.  As Pat observed, we prepare for a baby, to go away to college, to marry – really for all of life’s milestones – but we don’t plan for death. She was determined to address the issue head-on.  So, on that October day in 2020, she called me and said, “I have an idea for a book, and I want you to help me write it.”

Many people express a desire to write a book, but Pat’s background and experience brought credibility to the idea.  Pat was a revered part of the Twin Cities media landscape for more than a quarter of a century. She was a TV news anchor for WCCO-TV and KARE 11, she was also the creator and host of A Pat Miles Special for KARE and rounded out her career as host of The Pat Miles Show on WCCO Radio. Pat has won numerous accolades, including the National Television Academy’s Silver Circle Award and induction into the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame. Needless to say, she is an expert at interviewing people and telling their stories.   

We started by doing some competitive research and discovered that most books written for widowed people are either written solely about grief or recount a singular experience with the death of a spouse.  Our idea was to provide a broad array of perspectives, from many people and on a variety of subjects.  As we delved more into our research and conversations, we realized that many of the problems widowed people encounter could have been prevented with some pre-planning.  It became apparent that this lack of preparation added unnecessary stress to an already stressful time.  As Pat learned firsthand, by the time someone receives a terminal diagnosis, it’s often too late to start planning. We decided that our book would not only address issues that occur after a death, but what actions need to be taken beforehand.  Thus, the title of the book is Before All is Said and Done.

After our research concluded, Pat spent the next 18 months interviewing dozens of widowed people to learn about their experiences.  The problems were varied – financial, legal, family dynamics, alcoholism, dementia, sudden death and of course, grief – just to name a few.  She then sought advice from experts on how to avoid the problems or how to better cope with a situation.  We learned some new concepts: end-of-life doulas who can guide a family through a terminal illness and “intention letters”, that convey the thought process behind unequal inheritances, how family assets or belongings should be distributed, or to pass on family values and history. Through her contacts Pat was able to interview such notables as Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Bonnie Carroll, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with military widows, and Melanie Bloom, the widow of NBC News correspondent David Bloom, who took her husband’s very public death and turned it into a public service.  Pat found doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, and counselors who were all intrigued by the idea behind the book and wanted to participate. 

We quickly got into a rhythm for putting the book together; Pat would send me her thoughts or personal experience on a topic for the introduction, along with the transcripts of her interviews that pertained to that subject. I then turned the interview questions and answers into a narrative that combined the widows’ stories with advice and counsel from the experts.  We edited the subjects down to twelve chapters that deal with grief, estate planning, financial planning, blended family dynamics, dementia, sudden death (including suicide), COVID-19 deaths, military deaths (and why they are different), alcoholism, end-of-life doulas, self-care, and finally, examples of people who have come out the other side of grief to make new lives for themselves. 

It has been a long two years, filled with writing and rewriting, but finally, our book will be released tomorrow!  We are excited to share our work.  This is not just a book for those of us on Social Security.  In fact, the book includes several stories of women in their 30’s whose husbands died unexpectedly and left them with complex problems to solve.  The book is really for anyone who has a spouse, partner, children, or any loved one they will leave behind.  

If you would like more information here is a link to the Amazon page, where you can read about it and, we hope, purchase it: https://amzn.to/3BZBiJp

I have learned a lot about the book business in the past year.  One thing I learned is that if a book gets more than 50 reviews on Amazon it gets the attention of Goodreads, BookBub, and other book selling sites.  So, if you buy the book and have an account with Amazon, we would appreciate it if you could take a moment to write a review.  I also learned that there’s no faking it – Amazon tracks if you really bought the book. If you choose to buy the Kindle version, you must have read at least 30% of the book for your review to count.  They track that too. I think my next book is going to be about how Amazon works.

The past two years have both gratifying and educational.  Given that I spent my career in the financial services industry I believed I had all of my documents in order.  I didn’t. I learned, and am still learning, how to be a better writer.  But mostly I learned that you could embark on a long, sometimes difficult project with a friend and not only end up still friends, but better friends.  All in all, it’s been a great journey.

BEFORE ALL IS SAID AND DONE!

In October 2020, my friend and neighbor, Pat Miles Zimmerman, returned to Arizona from her summer home in Minneapolis with an idea for a book.  Pat’s husband, Bucky, had died of pancreatic cancer in February 2019, just three months after receiving his diagnosis.  When Bucky’s doctor advised Pat and Bucky to get their affairs in order, they thought their affairs were in order.  But as it turned out, they had been set for life, but not for death.  After Bucky died, Pat experienced a plethora of problems, many of which she had not anticipated.  As Pat spoke with friends about her experience, she learned that she was not alone: very few people prepare to leave this world.  And yet…we’re all going to.  As Pat observed, we prepare for a baby, to go away to college, to marry – really for all of life’s milestones – but we don’t plan for death. She was determined to address the issue head-on.  So, on that October day in 2020, she called me and said, “I have an idea for a book, and I want you to help me write it.”

Many people express a desire to write a book, but Pat’s background and experience brought credibility to the idea.  Pat was a revered part of the Twin Cities media landscape for more than a quarter of a century. She was a TV news anchor for WCCO-TV and KARE 11, she was also the creator and host of A Pat Miles Special for KARE and rounded out her career as host of The Pat Miles Show on WCCO Radio. Pat has won numerous accolades, including the National Television Academy’s Silver Circle Award and induction into the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame. Needless to say, she is an expert at interviewing people and telling their stories.   

We started by doing some competitive research and discovered that most books written for widowed people are either written solely about grief or recount a singular experience with the death of a spouse.  Our idea was to provide a broad array of perspectives, from many people and on a variety of subjects.  As we delved more into our research and conversations, we realized that many of the problems widowed people encounter could have been prevented with some pre-planning.  It became apparent that this lack of preparation added unnecessary stress to an already stressful time.  As Pat learned firsthand, by the time someone receives a terminal diagnosis, it’s often too late to start planning. We decided that our book would not only address issues that occur after a death, but what actions need to be taken beforehand.  Thus, the title of the book is Before All is Said and Done.

After our research concluded, Pat spent the next 18 months interviewing dozens of widowed people to learn about their experiences.  The problems were varied – financial, legal, family dynamics, alcoholism, dementia, sudden death and of course, grief – just to name a few.  She then sought advice from experts on how to avoid the problems or how to better cope with a situation.  We learned some new concepts: end-of-life doulas who can guide a family through a terminal illness and “intention letters”, that convey the thought process behind unequal inheritances, how family assets or belongings should be distributed, or to pass on family values and history. Through her contacts Pat was able to interview such notables as Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Bonnie Carroll, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with military widows, and Melanie Bloom, the widow of NBC News correspondent David Bloom, who took her husband’s very public death and turned it into a public service.  Pat found doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, and counselors who were all intrigued by the idea behind the book and wanted to participate. 

We quickly got into a rhythm for putting the book together; Pat would send me her thoughts or personal experience on a topic for the introduction, along with the transcripts of her interviews that pertained to that subject. I then turned the interview questions and answers into a narrative that combined the widows’ stories with advice and counsel from the experts.  We edited the subjects down to twelve chapters that deal with grief, estate planning, financial planning, blended family dynamics, dementia, sudden death (including suicide), COVID-19 deaths, military deaths (and why they are different), alcoholism, end-of-life doulas, self-care, and finally, examples of people who have come out the other side of grief to make new lives for themselves. 

It has been a long two years, filled with writing and rewriting, but finally, our book will be released tomorrow!  We are excited to share our work.  This is not just a book for those of us on Social Security.  In fact, the book includes several stories of women in their 30’s whose husbands died unexpectedly and left them with complex problems to solve.  The book is really for anyone who has a spouse, partner, children, or any loved one they will leave behind.  

If you would like more information here is a link to the Amazon page, where you can read about it and, we hope, purchase it: https://amzn.to/3BZBiJp

I have learned a lot about the book business in the past year.  One thing I learned is that if a book gets more than 50 reviews on Amazon it gets the attention of Goodreads, BookBub, and other book selling sites.  So, if you buy the book and have an account with Amazon, we would appreciate it if you could take a moment to write a review.  I also learned that there’s no faking it – Amazon tracks if you really bought the book. If you choose to buy the Kindle version, you must have read at least 30% of the book for your review to count.  They track that too. I think my next book is going to be about how Amazon works.

The past two years have both gratifying and educational.  Given that I spent my career in the financial services industry I believed I had all of my documents in order.  I didn’t. I learned, and am still learning, how to be a better writer.  But mostly I learned that you could embark on a long, sometimes difficult project with a friend and not only end up still friends, but better friends.  All in all, it’s been a great journey.

LONG LIVE THE KING!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Anglophiles the world ’round are sad this week with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.  I have had an interest in her life since 1960, when as a naive 9-year-old, I saw the headline banner on the newspaper my dad was reading that screamed, “QUEEN IN LABOR”.  My first thought was that the Queen of England had embarked on ditch digging.  But even at that age I knew that couldn’t be right, so I asked my parents what “labor” meant. I still recall the uncomfortable look they gave each other, as if to say, “Are you going to be the one to tell her?”  In any event, that is my first memory of the queen.  I subsequently studied English history in college and over the years I grew to appreciate the majesty that is the monarchy.  I know that we fought a war to separate ourselves from it, and I wholeheartedly support our divorce from the motherland, but given today’s bitter political infighting I sometimes think it would be nice to have a non-politician above it all who could say, “Stop your childish bickering and get on with the job.”

There is no better example of the benefits of a monarch than when Queen Elizabeth outfoxed Margaret Thatcher on the issue of apartheid. On several occasions during Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister, the Queen urged her take a strong stance against the apartheid laws in South Africa.  Thatcher dragged her feet, suggesting that the “time wasn’t right”.  For Thatcher, the time would never be right. By 1990, the Queen, frustrated with Thatcher’s inaction, took matters in hand by inviting Nelson Mandela, the foremost anti-apartheid leader, to the United Kingdom.  At the time, that was groundbreaking.  The apartheid laws were repealed the following year, in part due to the support exhibited by the Queen. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be seen with Mandela.  Even Thatcher, never one to miss a photo op, had her picture taken shaking Mandela’s hand.  Elizabeth and Mandela enjoyed a life-long friendship; he was the only person outside of the family that referred to her as “Elizabeth”.

I was very sad to learn of the Queen’s passing and I admit I shed a few tears.  She was part of the “greatest generation” who exemplified duty, humility and serving others, combined with some increasingly rare common sense. Elizabeth always understood that being royal was not about celebrity or attention-seeking, but about doing her best for her fellow countrymen.  In a time when slacking off has become fashionable, Elizabeth still stood by the virtues of hard work and commitment to one’s obligations. Not many 96-year-olds are still on the job, but the Queen stood by her promise to serve until her death.

Now we must forge ahead with the new King, Charles.  As a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel owner, I echo the sentiments I read from another owner that it is going to be hard to hear the words “King Charles” without wanting to add the word “spaniel” at the end.  Nevertheless, I am somewhat relieved at Charles’ accension.  For the past nine years innumerable people have stopped me and said, “Oh, you have a Prince Charles Spaniel.”  Perhaps now Dash the Wonder Dog will get his due respect.

 

JUST QUIT IT!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, here we are at Labor Day.  I know that because I saw the Christmas decorations up at Target this week.  I wish that we could celebrate one holiday – heck, one season – at a time but I suppose there isn’t any money in that.  Still, as a former Human Resources professional, I do give some thought to Labor Day and its origins.  Our annual honoring of labor dates back to 1894, when Congress declared that the first Monday in September would be set aside as a “general holiday for the laboring classes”. I think they assumed that a day off once a year might compensate for low wages and deplorable working conditions.  When I searched for Labor Day photos, I found this one of the Women’s Typographical Union float.  Ironically, our dad was required to join the typographical union when he first went into the newspaper business.  Fifty years later, when he went to retire, the Typographical union bosses had “mis-invested” his 50 years of contributions.  I have not been a fan of Big Labor since then, but regardless, I have enjoyed having a day off at the end of summer.

I like to follow the trends in employment, not because I’m considering re-joining the workforce, but because I am fascinated by the dynamic between employees and the companies they work for.  In the 80’s the trend to become an entrepreneur was popular, albeit some pretty wacky ideas stemmed from people who tried to out-invent each other.  That led to the “intrapreneur” phase, where people tried to be entrepreneurs within a corporate structure.  Let’s just say that didn’t go well.  In the mid-1990’s Fast Company published Tom Peters’ The Brand Called You.  The article became the launching point for the “Me, Inc.” phenomenon, whereby employees were encouraged to develop a personal brand that they could use to advance their careers.  Michael Jordon posed for Inc Magazine as the poster child for personal branding.  I’m not sure anyone working for a big company achieved the pinnacle of branding Jordan did and the idea died within a couple of years.

Now we are in the era of either “quiet quitting” or “quiet firing”, depending on your vantage point.  Quiet quitting is the act of doing the absolute minimum required to hold on to a job.  These people used to be known as “slackers” – expert at getting others to do all the work.  Today it’s been elevated to an art form.  There are several threads on social media discussing tips on how to fool your employer into thinking you’ve actually accomplished something. No doubt the COVID pandemic and the resultant “work from home” wave made it far easier to fool a boss into thinking work was completed when in reality the only work completed was the laundry. Perhaps as a natual reaction to that, employers have started “quiet firing”, whereby they withhold information, give interesting assignments to just a handful of people, and don’t provide a pay raise for years.  They stay just this side of “constructive discharge” to avoid lawsuits.

Lost in all of this “quitting” is that the people who actually do a lot of the real work in this country don’t have the ability to quit while still on the job.  They are the checkers at the grocery store, the truck drivers, the construction workers and God knows, the medical professionals.  So, I suggest that on this Labor Day we honor the people who do all the work that is often unappreciated and let the people in the corporate “quitting” wars throw their tantrums until finally, on some sunny day in the future, they learn to simply be quiet.

ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Dr. Chapman – Bob’s mentor

Ten years ago, Bob and I changed the format of this blog from a poem-inspired take on the news to its current form of writing a narrative about anything that strikes our fancy.  Some columns have been better than others, but to our credit, in those ten years we have posted something every Monday morning without fail.  We both were inspired and encouraged to write by very good teachers. So, besides our genes and love for college football, we share one other trait: we both love to write.  I say that with some trepidation as one of my favorite writers, Fran Lebowitz, once said, “Anyone who says they love to write is generally not very good at it.”

Bob and I will occasionally have conversations about books and authors that we love.  One author we both admired was Pat Conroy.  We waited anxiously for each new book he wrote and then discussed how it compared to his previous tomes.  From The Water is Wide, to The Great Santini, from The Prince of Tides to Beach Music, Conroy took us on a voyage, sometimes wrenching, but always exquisitely written.  We were devasted when he died in 2016 at age 70 from pancreatic cancer.  No one since has been able to match his ability to take readers on a painful journey, yet enjoy the ride.

This week we lost another of my literary heroes, David McCullough.  If you are a history fan you may have read his best-selling biographies of Truman and John Adams.  But McCullough was more than a presidential historian; he had a wide-ranging scope of interest that led him to write about topics as varied as the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge.  For those of you who have never read one of his books (really, you need to put that on your bucket list), you may be familiar with his baritone voice narrating Ken Burn’s documentary, The Civil War, the PBS show The American Experience, or the movie, Seabiscuit. McCullough had a unique ability to ferret out interesting stories of previously unknown people and weave them into the type of book that is hard to put down.  He made American history both exciting and interesting.

I loved every one of his books, but I was also intrigued his typewriter and writing shed.  McCullough wrote all of his books on a 1941 Royal Standard typewriter, which he bought second-hand for $25 in 1964.  He thought it was quite an investment at the time but surmised that if he was going to be in the business of writing he needed to have good equipment at home.  He continued to use it for all of his books, long after computers made writing, and re-writing, faster. When asked why he didn’t make the switch to more modern technology he said, “I love putting paper in. I love the way the keys come up and actually print the letters. I love it when I swing that carriage and the bell rings like an old trolley car. I love the feeling of making something with my hands. People tell me if I used a computer, I could go so much faster. Well, I don’t want to go faster. If anything, I should go slower. I don’t think all that fast.”

McCullough’s writing shed, which he referred to as “the bookshop”, might be the envy of anyone who writes, crafts, or simply wants to spend time alone.  It measures eight-by-10 feet. There is no telephone or running water.  Its walls are lined with more than 1,000 books, and the only furniture is a desk, a comfortable chair, and a lamp.  He often said, “Nothing good was ever written in a large room.” McCullough started writing in the shed when his children were young because he didn’t want them to have to tip-toe around the house when he was writing.  Each morning he repaired to the shed for peace and quiet and from that tiny enclave, some of the best chronicling of American history was crafted.

I will miss the anticipation of a new McCullough book, just as I have mourned the loss of any further works from Conroy.  A counterpoint to Ms. Lebowitz, they both loved writing and were thrilled that they attracted a large legion of followers.  How lucky we are that such writers engaged us with stories of fact and fiction. We will not see the likes of them again.

THE LOW DOWN ON SHOW LOW

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

              Torreon Golf Course

Twenty years ago, my husband and I ventured up to Show Low, Arizona, to play golf at the Torreon golf club.  We made the three-hour trip up and back in the same day.  I think we were younger then.  Since that trip, our summer vacations have entailed long car rides with overnight stays in roadside hotels.  The allure of those trips has faded, right along with my arthritic back, so this year we decided to plan for at least one of our summer trips to be closer to home. We were enticed by the idea of finding a summer getaway that was quick and easy. We remembered Torreon and, as luck would have it, I was able to secure a cute house for rent on Airbnb that was right in the heart of the community.  Only after I had rented it did I learn that Torreon had been bought out by the membership and outside play was no longer allowed.  I asked the pro at our club if he could wrangle a reciprocal tee time for us, but after he stopped laughing, he reminded me that summer is their “high season”.

       Our Little House in the Pines

Undaunted by the prospect of not being able to play bad golf, we decided instead we would use this trip to explore the area.  We were hopeful that if we liked it, Show Low might become our “go to” vacation spot.  Easy drive, no overnight stays, and a twenty degree drop in temperature from Scottsdale.  So off we went, Dash the Wonder Dog in tow, for a week of rest, relaxation and exploration.  The house was as advertised – clean, cute and nestled in the pines.  What they had not made clear was that they had no cable or satellite television hook-up.  So, no live tv, including news or, more critically, sports.  We could log into apps to get clips of events, which was better than nothing, but not ideal.  You may be wondering why no live television was such a big deal, when the purpose of our trip was to explore the area. Well, there were two good reasons.

         Downtown Tahoe city

First, the town of Show Low was a bit of a disappointment.  I grew up spending summer weekends in Tahoe City, where we strolled the main street, enjoying the cute shops and restaurants.  As an adult, my husband and I have spent time almost every summer in Mammoth Lakes and Sun Valley.  Again, quaint mountain towns with charm that provide an escape from big city living.  Show Low, on the other hand, was like visiting a suburb of Phoenix.  Every big box store imaginable is there – Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, CVS – as well as a plethora of car dealerships. The main street in town is Highway 60, so there were no nice sidewalks to amble down.  Instead, it was a series of strip centers followed by one of those ubiquitous “big” stores.  The number one rated restaurant in town is Cattlemen’s, which is fine if you’re into eating half a cow “with all the fixin’s”.  My husband also observed that some of the people we saw could possibly be distilling their own liquor.

                           Pinetop

Absent any charm in Show Low, we ventured 20 minutes down the road to Pinetop-Lakeside.  Both my niece and a good friend had recommended the town, and they were right.  It had much more charm that Show Low, some good hiking trails and a semi-private golf course that looked beautifully kept.  However, even Pinetop has suffered the effects of the economic downturn – there were many closed stores and restaurants in town.  We would have spent more time checking out some of the lakes and trails except for the second factor that interfered with our vacation: the weather.  The temperatures hovered near 90 degrees; a full 10 degrees hotter than normal for July.  At an altitude of over 6300′, the sun felt like it was four feet away.  Hiking mid-day was out of the question.  More importantly, the combination of altitude and heat proved to be too much for Dash.  He paced and panted, without relief.  We spent as much time as possible indoors (thus the need for some television entertainment) but finally, when the temperature was forecasted to reach 95 degrees, we gave up the ghost on Wednesday and went home.

The old adage is true, there is no place like home.  Dash was instantly better when he was returned to his air-conditioned surroundings and his cooling mat with a fan blowing on him.  My husband had the golf and hockey channels to watch, and I resumed cleaning out closets and watching Brit Box dramas.  Fortunately, the weather at home has been below normal, so we can even venture out for walks every morning and could sit outside in the evenings. It was good to get away for a few days, but sadly, our quest to find a nearby summer escape continues.