By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Jack and Bob

Last weekend our family and a few friends gathered together in our home for a Celebration of Life for Alan.  Which meant a lot of celebrating occurred and I’m operating on little sleep and lots of emotions as I write this.  The invitation to the event included a photo of Alan teeing off on his favorite hole on his favorite course in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Relatives came from far and wide.  In fact, I’m not even sure I’m related to some of these people.  To get the party started we had a family BBQ on Friday night, which involved a lot of laughter, some good-natured ribbing, loud singing (mostly on key), and some tears.  It was also an opportunity to celebrate my niece Shelley’s milestone birthday. 

Shelley and family


I had decided more than a year ago that this might be a good birthday for me to pass down the family diamond to her.  The diamond was originally given to my great-grandmother in 1892 and has normally been passed down upon the death of the owner.  But I believe that it’s good to give things away while you’re still alive to see the person’s reaction to receiving it.  She was genuinely surprised, and seeing her reaction was a moment I would not have missed. I know she will wear the diamond in the tradition of strong women in our family.

          The cookie

Alan’s Celebration of Life party on Saturday was everything I could have wished for.  Usually after an event I’ve hosted I find some flaw – something I could have done better or differently.  But not this.  As I went to bed Saturday night, I honestly thought the night had gone perfectly; I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Even the weather cooperated as the predicted strong winds didn’t occur.  The flowers were phenomenal, the food was outstanding, and everyone enjoyed the special touches of napkins and cookies that reflected the theme of “Until We Tee It Up Again”.  Of course, what made the day most special were the wonderful tributes paid to Alan by his children, Colin and Wendy, son-in-law Steve, and my brothers, Jack and Bob.  Everyone depicted Alan accurately.  He was funny, a prankster, enjoyed music and the outdoors, and was a master cheater at board games.  But most importantly what came through in those tributes is their love for him and their knowledge that he returned that love in full measure.  I wrote a eulogy that touched on his humorous antics, his remarkable achievements, and the wonderful times we shared together.  The event was filled with love and laughter, and I know that is exactly what he wanted.

        The family

I have been asked why it took me so long to have this Celebration of Life.  After all, Alan died July 28th, so it’s been a long time as these things go. What I didn’t realize before I became a widow is that the loss of a spouse shakes the very foundation of your life.  Everything – absolutely everything – is changed, from the moment you awaken in the morning to the moment to go to sleep at night.  I’m sure I could have arranged a Celebration directly after his death, with a lot of help from family and friends.  But it wouldn’t have been the same.  All of us family members have now had eight months to reflect on him and his life.  All of us who spoke about him were able to do so with some humor – which was his hallmark trait – and that would not have been possible in the first days after he died.  Now, we are all able to put his life, and death, into some perspective.  I chose a date close to his birthday and actually enjoyed planning the event and thinking about what he would have liked, right down to having pineapple upside down cake, which was his favorite birthday cake.

So, to all the people who questioned why I waited so long I say this: good things come to those who wait.  Should you ever find yourself in the unenviable position of having to plan a Celebration of Life, do what YOU feel is best.  Throw tradition and what is “normally” done out the window, unless that fits with your desires.  I’m so glad I did, and I know that Alan is looking down, happy that his Celebration was such a fun – and funny – gathering. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.




I love it when a confluence of interests come together, and such was the case for me last week when I learned something new about Benjamin Franklin that also involved Ludwig van Beethoven.  I wrote about Franklin last July 4th, not only due to his involvement in the founding of the country, but also because he was a peculiar, but talented, Rennaissance man.  Last week I began watching the new Apple TV series, “Franklin”, starring Michael Douglas.  I wanted to fact-check something I saw and that led me down the primrose path that I’m writing about this week.  First, I have to say, I’ve only watched the first episode of the series and it appears to be quite well done.  That said, whenever I see Douglas on screen, I can’t help but think of Gordon Gekko and his famous, “Greed is good” line.  I find it very distracting.  Secondly, much of the dialogue is sub-titled.  I’m all for authenticity (which is why they all speak French), but when you’re trying to do something else, in my case, knit, I hate it when I miss the gist of what’s going on because I missed reading the subtitles.  Anyway, it you don’t mind subtitles – or you don’t knit – you may thoroughly enjoy the story.

Franklin’s armonica

In doing my fact-check I discovered that among the items Franklin invented is the armonica.  No, not harmonica, like Stevie Wonder.  The armonica consists of a series of glass bowls that make different sounds.  Franklin got his inspiration after he saw an Englishman, Edward Delaval, playing water-filled wine glasses.  And haven’t we all done that at a dinner party? Franklin worked with London glassblower Charles James to build his new instrument and it had its world premiere in early 1762.  His armonica consisted of 37 glass bowls of varying sizes, arranged concentrically to eliminate the need for water and mounted on a rounded rod. The rod was moved by a foot pedal, and the glass bowls were played by rubbing one’s fingers along their edges. It was meant to produce tones similar to “singing” glasses. Franklin wrote from London in 1762 about his musical instrument: “The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressure of the finger, and that the instrument being well-tuned, never again needs tuning.”

The armonica was an instant sensation. Marie Antoinette took lessons, Thomas Jefferson was a fan, and Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both composed music for the novel instrument. As I recounted here in January, one of my goals for 2024 is to learn Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” by the end of the year, so I’ve been studying a bit about Beethoven as well.  He only wrote one major piece for the armonica (and thank God it wasn’t “Moonlight Sonata”.  But I do enjoy learning that two historical people that I admire also admired each other.

Despite its initial popularity, the armonica fell out of favor by the 1820s, due in part to its purported negative effects on mental health — attributed at first to the instrument’s ethereal tones, but later thought to be due to lead poisoning from the paint applied to the bowls. There was never any scientific proof of lead poisoning, but even without the sensation of social media, false stories spread about it and in some cities, it was banned as a safety precaution.

Franklin at his invention

Today, the armonica is used by some niche musicians, a second life that would surely please Franklin, who said the instrument had brought him “the most personal satisfaction.” An original Franklin armonica is in the archives at the Franklin Institute in Philidelphia, having been donated in 1956 by Franklin’s descendants after the children took great delight in breaking the bowls with spoons during family gatherings. It is only placed on display for special occasions, such as Franklin’s birthday.

I walked away from learning about this with two thoughts: first, I’d like to think that Ben and Ludwig are somewhere rocking out together on the armonica and second, I think the Franklin family gatherings might have been a lot of fun.



Okay, first of all, my brother’s post last week was an April Fool’s Day joke.  You cannot get rid of us that easily!  But a surprising number of people didn’t even read through the first paragraph to learn he was fooling us.  I just want to say that these people might want to start reading the fine print, lest they be taken advantage of by people more nefarious than my brother!  Anyway, we’re here again on a Monday morning with a perspective on some history that was new to me, and perhaps will be to you as well.  As a life-long student of WWII history I’ve read hundreds of books about the war and the people who fought it.  But last week I came across an article that was a surprise and once again illustrated why the British were known as masters of spy craft.

Clayton Hutton, the mastermind

When the first British airmen were captured by the Germans in 1940, the British intelligence services established a new section, MI9, specifically to help captured Allied prisoners of war escape. Intelligence officer Clayton Hutton was put in charge of masterminding a plan that would be both effective and foolproof. He came up with a plan to devise some “toys” that could be introduced into the POW camps in an innocuous – and continuous – manner.   Hutton seized upon the fact that the Germans liked to see games in the prisoner’s care packages, as they thought that prisoners concentrating playing games wouldn’t be concentrating on plotting an escape. The prisoners, for their part, liked playing familiar, ordinary games as a welcome pastime to help them forget the realities of war, if even for a short time.  So, Hutton conspired with the U.K. Monopoly manufacturer, Waddington’s, to produce special Monopoly boards that could be distributed as part of larger aid packages.  In addition to the standard thimble and dog game pieces, each board contained metal “playing pieces” that were actually escape tools, such as a file and magnetic compass.  He also invented a sort of Swiss Army Knife piece, but with wire cutters and lock breakers along with the traditional screwdrivers and bottle openers.

The games were always sent via private, often fictitious, organizations, like the Licensed Victuallers Prisoner Relief Fund. No escape aids were enclosed in the Red Cross parcels so that the Germans would have no justification for stopping these much-needed parcels from reaching the prisoners. Unique clues, known only to the British, were included in the return addresses and on the game board itself. Each version also contained silk maps packed into the game’s hotels which could be unfolded discreetly without drawing attention, as silk made no noise as it was being pulled from the game piece or a pocket. The silk escape maps were probably the most important part of the secret version of Monopoly, as they provided logistics for European countries such as Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, and Italy.  These “special editions” of the game also hid German, Italian, and French currency under the fake Monopoly money for use in bribing guards.

           British POWs in Germany

Once the games were being sent on a steady basis, soldiers were told that, should they be captured, they should be on the lookout for the special Monopoly sets. Reportedly, 35,000 prisoners of war managed to escape prison camps in Nazi-occupied Europe, and it is believed that nearly 20,000 of them had a silk map, compasses, and other supplies that had been hidden inside the Monopoly boxes.  The success of the Monopoly ruse eventually led British intelligence to conceal maps inside chess sets and packs of cards.

Unfortunately, there are no surviving boards or pieces from those special Monopoly games, as once the escape aids were removed, the games were destroyed lest they fell into German hands. The games destined for POW camps were custom made, and the few that remained after the war were destroyed to keep the practice secret in case it was needed again.  Clayton Hutton passed away in 1965 when much of this information was still classified. He was never credited for his brilliant inventions and ideas until recently, when his work came to light.  Thankfully Hutton is no longer an unsung hero of WWII.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

                           Ellis Island

Well, so far, I have not been burgled by the Chilean crime tourists, but I came very close. One evening two weeks ago, a trio of them were caught by our security department trying to get into our community.  Around 8:30, just when I was settling down with my book, I heard helicopters overhead.  For the next seven hours police helicopters circled over my house and directed their floodlights into my front and back yard several times.  They were shouting from their bullhorns, “Come out, with your hands up!”.  I assumed they meant the burglars and not me.  Thankfully by 6:30 the next morning they caught them. That’s the good news.  The bad news is that their presence in our city has generated a lot of conversation about out our immigration and visa policies and, as is usual these days, the “conversations” soon devolve into political debate.  People WRITE IN ALL CAPS in the hope it will make their point more factual.  Coincidentally, last week I received an email from the history site I subscribe to that contained a piece about Ellis Island.  Although I am unofficially the family historian, I’ve never paid that much attention to Ellis Island, as both our maternal and paternal great-grandparents immigrated from Europe between 1854 and 1880, before Ellis Island was established. I thought in light of the current national debate about immigration it might be useful to look back at our previous methods of screening immigrants.  I learned a lot.  Okay, maybe my previous knowledge was a low bar, but I hope this piece also provides some new insights for you too.

First, the basics.  Ellis Island was the designated as the official federal port of entry from Europe in 1892. Prior to that, immigration policies had been handled at a state level.  Up until the late 1880’s, most immigrants to the U.S. were from Germany, Ireland, Britain and the Scandinavian countries.  But political and economic turmoil in other parts of Europe caused a surge in immigrants to the U.S.  Among this new generation of immigrants were Jews escaping czarist Russia and eastern Europe, as well as Italians escaping poverty in their country. There were also Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Greeks, along with non-Europeans from Syria, Turkey and Armenia, fleeing for the prospect of a better life in America.  Due to the influx of “new” immigrants, congress acted to establish immigration policies at a national level.  So, a whopping $75,000 was appropriated for construction of the first federal immigration station on Ellis Island.

The new Ellis Island port of entry opened on January 1, 1892, on six acres of land.  Each arriving passenger (almost all immigrants arrived by ship) went through an inspection process that lasted about two hours. Doctors would examine immigrants for signs of physical ailments or mental illness; at one point, they would flip back people’s eyelids to look for a contagious eye disease. If an immigrant had one of these problems, then a letter symbol would be drawn on his or her jacket with chalk — for example, E for eyes or X for suspected mental problem. And contrary to popular belief, the process did not involve changing one’s surname to one that’s easier to pronounce, which is one of the biggest myths that persists about Ellis Island. If names were changed, that would happen earlier, when the ship’s manifest was written in Europe at the home country’s consulate. Overall, despite these procedures, only two percent of immigrants were turned away.

           A ship arriving in 1907

From 1900 to 1914—the peak years of Ellis Island’s operation—an average of 1,900 people passed through the immigration station every day. Most successfully passed through in a matter of hours, but others could be detained for days or weeks. The record for the number of people processed in a day was April 17, 1907, when more than 11,747 people passed through Ellis Island.  April 1907 was, in fact, a banner month for Ellis Island, with more than a quarter-million passengers from around the world coming through. That year was Ellis Island’s peak year, as more than 1.2 million immigrants came to the United States.  Immigration slowed after that in part due to a new federal law excluding persons with physical and mental disabilities, and children arriving without an adult.

World War I caused a huge drop in immigrants, from 178,416 in 1915, to 28,867 in 1918.  The military took over the island during World War I to use as a place where injured soldiers could be sent after the war for recuperation. In 1917 a literacy test is introduced for all immigrants; it stayed on the books until 1952. Those over the age of 16 who could not read 30 to 40 test words in their native language were no longer admitted into the country. Nearly all Asian immigrants were banned for no other reason that just being Asian.

In 1921 President Harding signed the Emergency Quota Act into law, which stated that annual immigration from any country could not exceed 3 percent of the total number of U.S. immigrants from that same country, as recorded in the census of 1910.  The Immigration Act of 1924 went even further, setting strict quotas for immigrants based on country of origin, including an annual limit of 165,000 immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere.  Interestingly, by 1932 the Depression had taken hold in the U.S., and for the first time ever, more people left the country than arrived.

Japanese on a harbor boat to Ellis Island

From the 1920s to 1950s, Ellis Island was mostly used as a detention center; during World War II specifically, it served as a detention center for “enemy aliens” who were Japanese, German or Italian.  After the war, with the advent of modern air travel, immigration points were established throughout the country and Ellis Island fell into disrepair.  It was permanently closed in 1954 and was not reopened until 1990, when it became a museum.

I found the history of Ellis Island fascinating and given its history and all that has happened since its closure, it’s clear there is no simple answer to immigration policies.  Although little common sense in Washington DC might go a long way.  Maybe we need to re-institute an immigration law from 1875 and impose it on Congress: it restricted “lunatics” and “idiots”.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Yesterday marked the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, an annual event that causes grousing throughout the world from people who wonder where they go to get their lost hour back.  And no wonder. Daylight Saving Time (DST) has been linked to negative health consequences that include increased risk of heart attack, traffic accidents, sleep disruption (duh!), mood changes, depression, weight gain, and cluster headaches.  Not to mention getting called out by the boss for being late to work.  As a resident of Arizona, I no longer have to worry about DST, as our state, as well as Hawaii and several U.S. territories in the Pacific Island region, don’t believe in such tomfoolery.  We get enough sun during the summer to last the whole year – we don’t need to have any more “sunshine saving” when it’s 110 degrees outside.  But why does most of the world observe DST?  Turns out, it all started with a man and his golf game.  That always spells trouble.

   William Willet

One of the first people to advocate adjusting the clock seasonally was a British builder named William Willett.  He had noticed that few people were out in the early morning light during the summer because their clocks indicated it was too darn early to be up.  More importantly to Willett, his golf games often ended early because it became too dark to play. So in 1907 Willett started a campaign to “save” daylight by adjusting the time.  He published “The Waste of Daylight,” in which he suggested changing the clocks at 2 a.m. on Sundays during the spring and fall — something we still do today. But, unlike today, the transition was to happen 20 minutes at a time over the course of four weeks, twice a year, for a total of eight time changes each year. And rather than an even hour, the time difference would be 80 minutes. Willett’s proposal was considered in the British House of Commons in 1908, but it was soundly rejected. Who in the heck wanted to change the time eight times a year?!

But during World War I many countries were looking for new ways to save money. Inspired by Willett’s original proposal, which had included estimated savings in electricity costs, Germany and Britain implemented “Summer Time” in 1916, changing the clocks just one hour twice a year. Ironically, Willett died of influenza in 1915, so he didn’t live to see his idea come to fruition. The United States first observed daylight saving time on March 31, 1918.    Originally scheduled for six months of the year, it was extended by Congress in 2005 to eight months.

According to the most recent polling, most people aren’t feeling great about DST.  More than 40 states have passed legislation to make either daylight saving time or standard time permanent.  The problem is that states don’t have the authority to actually stop the clocks from moving forward or back. That authority rests with Congress.  Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Vern Buchanan have tried several times to make daylight saving time permanent with the “Sunshine Protection Act”. While the Senate has passed the bill, it has stalled before a House vote and has never gone before President Biden to be signed into law.  Given the ability of our elected representatives to agree on anything, I’m not sure the Sunshine Act will ever see the light of day.

The upside of changing clocks is that there has been a tandem effort to remind people to change the batteries on their smoke detectors at the same time they change their clocks.  Because we don’t observe DST in Arizona, I guess I am throwing caution to the wind and will have to suffer the consequences when my units start to chirp – inevitably at 2 a.m.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In the shadowy world of organized crime, a peculiar breed of criminals has emerged: South American Theft Groups. They are burglars often referred to as “crime tourists” because they enter the U.S. legally under the Visa Waiver Program that has been in place with Chile since 2014.  The Chilean waiver is the only one issued to a South American country. It allows Chileans to be in the U.S. for 90 days for either personal or business reasons.  The problem is that for some, their “business” is robbing Americans.  This problem has existed for around five years (with a short break due to Covid travel restrictions) and has recently emerged in the greater Phoenix area.  Since December there have been 111 burglaries netting more than $3 million…and counting!  They almost always hit during the early evening when people are out to dinner, thus earning them the nickname of “The Dinner Time Burglars”.  This group is a growing problem nationally – in the past month there has been a rash of burglaries in Philadelphia, New York, Miami, Edina, MN, Los Angeles, San Diego, Detroit, Ashville NC and Indianapolis, just to name a few.  Their method of operation is consistent:  they enter the backyard of a home either through open space or a golf course, they smash through a glass door or window (thus not breaking the seal on a home alarm sensor), they upend everything in the primary bedroom and bath, and take jewelry, cash, expensive handbags, and other small items.  The average time from beginning to end of their caper is 5-8 minutes.

            The 3 Phoenix Burglars

So… why have they been so successful in eluding capture?  First, there are a LOT of them.  Last week three police officers held a meeting for our homeowner’s group to discuss the overall problem and they said they are seeing an increase in the number of burglary cells because of the ease with which they can obtain visas or enter through the southern border. The detective said that the Chilean crime syndicate has established training camps where the burglars learn how to surveil properties, break through doors and windows, and evade security cameras.  The trainees who are the fastest are the ones sent to the U.S.  When they arrive here they generally rent a high-end car so as not to look out of place when they’re scouting high-end neighborhoods, and they rent homes through Airbnb or VRBO, so they aren’t observed in hotel lobbies or parking lots.  As unnerving as this all is, you would think just setting an alarm and operating security cameras would provide adequate protection.  You would be wrong. A woman across the road from me had jewelry and cash stolen.  She said that her Ring alarm/camera system was on, but it didn’t capture the burglars who entered her home.  And there’s a good reason for that.  The latest tool in their bag of tricks is a Wi-Fi and cellular frequency jammer, that disables security systems and cell phone transmissions.  Last weekend the technology expert, Kim Komando, was exposed to this group when they tried to rob several houses on her street in Phoenix.  Because she recently designed and built her house (and she is a technology expert) her home has a hard-wired security system.  Fortunately for her the burglars moved on from her house but she was able to capture the 22 SWAT team members who swarmed her back yard looking for evidence.  They found several jammers strewn around the area.  Neighbors reported losing their Wi-Fi/phone connectivity, but assumed it was a simple internet outage.  The truth was obviously far scarier.  In that incident the police were able to capture three of the burglars as they tried to escape. According to court records, all three suspects were of Chilean descent, overstayed their visas, and were carrying bogus ID cards from Spain, with fake names and birth dates. 

      A New Friend for Dash?

Over the past three weeks we have had two attempted burglaries in my community.  In the first one the owner came home from walking her dog and surprised the burglars.  The second incident last week involved them shattering a bedroom slider, but they were scared off when they realized the owners were home in another part of the house.  I don’t want to get into a discussion about continuing the visa program or our southern border.  But piggybacking on Bob’s post from last week, it may be time to throw out ALL of our politicians and find some who can find some solutions. For now, all I know is that in twenty-four years of living in this house I have rarely turned on the alarm system.  Now, it’s on all the time.  I have installed more security and have taken extra precautions for my personal security.  I’m thinking of getting Dash the Wonder Dog a friend.  One who bites.  I never thought I would live like this.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     The lovely blanket

On Christmas Day, as I arrived home from a wonderful celebration with family, I noticed a large box on my doorstep.  I had just been with everyone who might possibly send me a gift, so my first thought was that once again I had ordered something from Amazon and completely forgotten about it.  But no, the return address was Nordstrom Rack.  I opened the box to find the most squishy, soft blanket, in colors that exactly match my decor.  The only problem was there was no gift card.  I perused the label looking for a clue and literally tore the box apart looking for a gift insert.  Nope.  Nothing.  I decided to call Nordstrom Rack to see if they could help.  After all, Nordstrom is known for their outstanding customer service.  I called the customer service number for Nordstrom Rack and was immediately connected to someone in the far reaches of Southeast Asia.  I explained my situation, told him the order number on the label, and asked if he could provide me with the name of the sender.  “Oh, no, madam”, he says, “you would need to give me the name and email address of the person who sent the gift in order for us to provide that information.”  Okay, maybe we had a language problem here.  I explained again that if I had the name and the email address of the person who sent it, I wouldn’t be calling him.  Again, he said that if I couldn’t provide that information, he couldn’t provide me with the name of the sender.  Privacy issues, he stated.  I tried another tack – I asked if he could provide me with the zip code of the sender.  I thought at least that would narrow it down.  Well, apparently the zip code request is the equivalent to the nuclear bomb codes and is not in the manual.  He had to put me on hold to find a supervisor.  When he came back on the line, he once again told me that for privacy reasons, I would need to give him the name and email address of the sender.  I hung up … and gave up.  The blanket is still intact, I feel too guilty to use it without having thanked whoever sent it.

The whole experience got me thinking about the state of customer service, or more accurately, the lack of customer service.  Granted, there are still great examples of it out there.  I recently had two unfortunate experiences with tires, and the good people at Discount Tire could not have been more helpful or kind.  But generally, good customer service is an anomaly.  I’m not alone in thinking this.  I found a wonderful interview by Amas Tenumah, who wrote the book, Waiting for Service: An Insider’s Account of Why Customer Service is Broken and Tips to Avoid Bad Service.  His research shows that Americans are incredibly gracious when they start out with customer support: on a scale of 1 to 10, he says most people start with expectations at nine or nine and a half.  He describes how it goes downhill from there:

People start with a positive outlook about resolving a problem. But then they are met with an automated system — press one, press two — or a voice-recognition machine that asks the customer to state their name, account number, nature of the problem, etc.  But oftentimes, the voice-recognition machine isn’t so good at voice recognition, or they are directed to a chatbot on a website.  Once they’ve offered up all of their personal information (again) they might be connected to a human, and the human asks them to repeat the information. The goodwill at the beginning of the interaction that started at a nine, is now down to a four, and then, God forbid, the human says they need to transfer the call to another department.

Tenumah says there are a number of reasons why customer service may feel worse – a shortage in workers in some industries, the proliferation of tech as a part of the process, and a lack of incentive for companies without competition. As he accurately points out – have you ever tried to contact your internet provider about anything? His suggestion is that we need to change the social contract and not think of customer service reps as “low skill workers.”  As he points out, by the time an issue reaches a human being they are usually complicated requests. If the problem was an easy one, a bot or a machine could have handled it.

I’m not sure it’s “we” who need to change the social contract as much as it is corporate America.  I’m convinced this issue will not change in my lifetime, so I’ve learned to set my expectations low and reserve my DefCon 1 outbursts for truly egregious situations.  All I know at this point is that due to Nordstrom Rack and their customer service policies, someone out there thinks I’m an ungrateful oaf who doesn’t know how to send a note of thanks.




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

        Ray Nitschke

I’ve been watching a lot of the NFL Network lately.  It beats watching the news and it provides me with some people for whom to root.  That alone distinguishes it from the news channels.  There is a segment on the NFL morning show titled, “The Fit List”, short for outfit.  Each week they profile players, not for their accomplishments on the field, but for the sartorial splendor exhibited on the way into the game.  Yes, before the first whistle is blown, players are lauded for their achievement in wearing designer pants and carrying Gucci briefcases. Last week there were some particularly wild ‘fits’, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the old-time players – Ray Nitschke, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, et al – would think about the emphasis on designer clothing.


Deion on draft day

Today, players are judged on their “drip”. Football drip is all about how players look and carry themselves, from their clothing and accessories to their overall personal style.  It is also known as having swag, sauce, or style.  The focus on football fashion can be traced back to the intersection of hip-hop and sports culture. In the 1990s, hip-hop music began to grow more popular with athletes around the country, and many started to embrace similar fashion styles associated with what they saw their favorite artists wearing. Baggy clothes, gold chains, and other flashy accessories became more mainstream, creating new, unique, and bold looks that would eventually become known as “sauce” or “swag”.  Eventually, football players like Deion Sanders started to incorporate their own personal touches into their game-day fits, both on and off the field. As a result, football swag became an essential part of the culture of the sport.

Tyrod Taylor

As off-putting as this focus on fashion can be to hard core football fans, there is some sense in it for the players.  Most of the well-dressed athletes now have stylists who negotiate contracts with clothing and accessory companies. Tyrod Tayor, for example, the back-up quarterback for the New York Giants, has teamed up with high-end boutique Jeffrey, where fans can shop his Sunday looks — ranging from a Gucci jacket and YSL jeans to a Balenciaga sweatshirt.  His stylist says, “We’ve created revenue without him ever throwing a ball.”  In a sport where the average career lasts less than five years, it makes sense for these guys to make as much money as they can, as fast as possible.


The Tablecloth

This season a lot of focus has been on the Kelce brothers, who could not be more dissimilar in their game day ‘fits.  Travis has long been known for his wardrobe.  In fact, when his mother was asked if she was disappointed that she never had a daughter, she responded, “No. I had Travis and he’s a fashionista.”  Now that he has a famous girlfriend, there is even more attention to what he wears on game day and if there is a secret message in it.  I’m not so sure there is.  At times his outfit resembles something one might select blindly from a Goodwill bag.  And sometimes he looks like a picnic tablecloth.  But I’m sure he’s making money hand over fist, and good for him.

Jason being Jason

On the other hand, his brother, Jason, is more old-school.  He was recently asked why he doesn’t up his pre-game look, to which he replied, “Some people go to play football, and some people play dress up. I don’t like to play dress up. I like to play football, alright?”  He added that he had no interest in shopping or color coordinating his outfits with matching belts and shoes.  Last week he also demonstrated that sometimes clothing is optional.


I like to imagine what the notoriously tough Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, would think of all this.  Lombardi coached during a time when coaches wore suits and ties (and oftentimes, hats) on the sidelines and players were expected to dress similarly.  Lombardi hated agents, preferring to negotiate with his players one-on-one. There is a legend (somewhat disputed but not by Lombardi) that he once traded a player within five minutes of that player even mentioning that he had an agent. It makes my hair curl to think what Lombardi might do when confronted with a player’s stylist.  I’m not sure there are enough four-letter words to encompass his thoughts, but it sure would be fun to listen in.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


As my brother wrote last week, a new year often brings new resolutions.  Mine usually involve giving up cake and exercising more.  These resolutions are normally shot to smithereens by January 4th, our oldest grandson’s birthday.  The occasion obviously requires eating cake, whether I’m with him in person or not.  But in 2024 my goal has nothing to do with sugary confections: I have resolved to learn Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano.  You didn’t know I play the piano?  Neither does my piano.  I took piano lessons for two years at age 12.  I liked it, but by age 14 I liked boys and my friends more and stopped the lessons.  However, I still played occasionally and when I entered the Junior Miss contest in 1968, I performed two songs as my “talent”, which was good enough to place me second runner-up.  Otherwise known as third place.  My securing a trophy only speaks to how awful the rest of the talent was.

Alan teaching grandkids how to play

As the years went on I gave up playing entirely, mainly because I didn’t own a piano (a critical requirement).  In my early 30’s I bought a house and purchased my first piano.  I was working and had a long commute, so I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to playing, but I still would find solace in it when I had the time.  Then I met Alan.  I always said he fell in love with me at first sight…of my piano.  He loved playing the piano and was very talented.  He never took a lesson but could play by ear and figure out almost any tune.  I eventually stopped playing, as I didn’t want to subject him to my halting, wrong-key, playing.  Any of you who have suffered through kids taking piano lessons know exactly how excruciating it is.

Giulietta Guicciardi

But now I am drawn to the piano once again.  I still have every piece of sheet music I’ve ever owned, including my “Music from the Movies” book that contains songs from Chariots of Fire and Urban Cowboy. Okay, so my music is a bit dated. I thought about buying some more current scores, but instead, I picked up my “easy” version of “Moonlight Sonata”. I love that song and could easily re-learn it, but I decided to download the sheet music as written by Beethoven, in C-sharp minor, no less.   A friend commented that she thinks it is such a sad-sounding song, and questioned whether I might want to learn something more upbeat.  But I have always loved the melodious, haunting rhythm of the sonata.  Plus, it was actually written as a love song.  Beethoven dedicated the “Moonlight” sonata to his 16-year-old lover and student, Giulietta Cuicciardi, with whom he had fallen in love. He proposed marriage to her, but her father forbade her from marrying him as he deemed Beethoven to be without rank.  History does not record whether her father lived long enough to see the error of his ways.  “Moonlight” was also something of a miracle, as the deafness that would eventually engulf Beethoven started as he was writing it.  Even though the deafness was at its early stages, the progression was aggressive, and he was reported to have broken several pianos trying to make out the sound of the keys.

I’m guessing that if Beethoven could hear me playing, he’d be breaking my piano. But with some perseverance and watching a wonderful teacher on YouTube, my goal is that by year’s end I will have it memorized.  That is not such an easy feat these days.  I can’t remember to take out the garbage can out on the right day.  Perhaps I will be able to record it and embed a video into this blog at year’s end.  Or not.  In any event, I’ll give fair warning so you can get your earplugs ready.  In the meantime, if you want a real treat, look up Alicia Keyes playing “Moonlight Sonata” at Kobe Bryant’s memorial service.  Truly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever performed.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Jeff the Elf

Elvis was in the building!

Here we are, a new year before us, with optimism and hope for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2024.  But before we leave 2023, I want to give a shout out to Bob and his wife, Linda, for hosting a fun and frolicking Christmas weekend.  As I mentioned in my last blog, there was a family talent show on Christmas Eve.  The emphasis was slightly more on fun than talent, but it was the highlight of the weekend.  Bob’s son, Jeff, served as MC.  I knew he would be up to the task but it was confirmed when he arrived dressed as Elf, replete with beanie and pointed shoes. He sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, with some slight lyric variations, and was sensational. Next, we had a surprise visit from Elvis (he looked amazingly like Bob) who serenaded us with his classic, “Blue Christmas”, not only on guitar but with kazoo at the same time.  He’s a very talented guy!

Us, not singing, thank God

My family did a riff on the Brady Bunch theme song with lyrics changed to poke fun at the assembled group.  My nieces, Stephanie and Dana, sang their traditional “Sisters” song from White Christmas, this year waving turquoise feathered fans, looking just like Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.  My great-nieces, Emma and Addison, sang “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth“, which was especially appropriate given that Addison is missing her two front teeth!  The show ended with Jeff singing, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch!”, and all of the little children were enthralled by his performance.  There is nothing like small children to bring back the magic of Christmas and restore a sense of gratitude.  All in all, it was a great – and memorable – holiday.

This year, he was Christmas angel

But here we are in a new year and ready to take it on.  I am an (overly) sentimental person, so New Year’s Eve is always a bittersweet holiday for me.  Particularly as I’ve grown older, I think about the retiring year and recall the fun times, but also the loss of a family member or friend that each year has brought.  Of course, 2023 was the hardest year to part with because it was the last year that Alan was alive.   I will never again have a year with a memory of him in it.  So probably like many of you, I greet the new year with mixed emotions, wishing I could hold on to the old year, but knowing a new year beckons.  Just before he died, Norman Lear summed up this dichotomy about saying goodbye to one thing and greeting the next when he was asked if he was afraid to die.  He said, “I’m not concerned about the going, I just don’t like the leaving.” But here we go, into 2024, optimistic and full of plans.  As I said at the beginning, I hope this is a happy, healthy and prosperous new year for all of you.

Now go watch some football and nurse that hangover!