By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Obviously they didn't want to hear my insurance woes.

Obviously they didn’t want to hear my insurance woes.

Our final day in Washington DC dawned bright and beautiful.  We rose early, anticipating our 9:30 tour of the Supreme Court.  As those of you who follow this blog know, I have lost my health insurance, so I viewed this as another opportunity to plead my case.  After all, if the Highest Court in the Land won’t hear me out, who will?  Unfortunately, those nice people who run the Metro apparently weren’t aware of  my plight – or our schedule.  There was a huge back-up that caused us to miss our tour.  On the upside, we got to experience – and smell –  the local Metro riders at very close range.  Despite missing the formal tour, we were still able to view the inside of the building and see the Supreme Court chambers from the hallway.  It is MUCH smaller that you might imagine.  I mentioned this to my neighbor who has argued before the Justices and he agreed with me – he said he had been in small town courtrooms that were significantly larger than the Supreme Court.  So just like the First Ladies’ ball gowns, things are not always the size you would imagine.  As you can see from the picture (left) they apparently knew that I was coming ahead of time.  Of particular interest to us was the exhibit that depicts Sandra Day O’Connor’s rise to the bench. Upon graduating from law school the only job she was offered was as a legal secretary!   But she forged ahead and has been a great example of determination and fortitude.   We visited the gift shop which sells all sorts of  Supreme Court mementos, but somehow I thought it would be hard to take the Justices seriously after seeing them on shot glasses and bobble heads.  We decided to bypass the tchotchkes and move on.


Me...being totally ignored by the Speaker of the House

Me…being totally ignored by the Speaker of the House

Our next stop was an appointment with Shelley’s congressman, Ron Barber.  Actually, our appointment wasn’t with him, but with staff that draws straws to see who has to lead the tours for constituents.  We made our way into the bowels of his office building finding, once again, that the office of a Congressman is not as large as you might expect.  Think of your dentist’s waiting room and you’re very close to the size of your elected official’s place of work.  We had a wonderful tour of the Capital Building – the artwork and statues are truly breathtaking.  The capital dome is currently under repair but even through the scaffolding we could see its beauty.  As we entered the National Statutory Hall we passed by the Speaker’s Office.  I wanted to poke my head in, certain that he, of all people, would be sympathetic to my loss of insurance.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.  Or so I was told.  They never let me get close.  But then, as if by miracle, as we were touring the Hall, we heard some rustling and sure enough, the Speaker was walking right by us to his office.  I shot up to the front of the crowd, jumping up to get his attention.  You can see his reaction in the picture (right).  Harumpt!  All I can say is, he’s just as orange in person as he is on T.V.


We moved on to the Senate Chamber, where we spent a long while, mainly because Abby loved being there and seeing all the goings-on.  Which, frankly, wasn’t much because they were in recess.  Senator Landrieu gave a speech with no one in attendance except the acting chairman.  It’s rather odd to see a Senator give a speech to no one.  Then again, the CSPAN cameras were on so for all I know people back in her state were listening with rapt attention.  Several senators, including our own John McCain, walked through the chambers while we were observing so at least we knew he was working…or passing through on the way to the men’s room.  We then progressed to the House Chamber where I was almost taken down by Security.  We had been through security check lines every where we went in Washington but it would seem they are most sensitive when it comes to protecting members of Congress (which is a bit odd given their popularity level).  In any event, one half of a foil from a stick of gum set off the alarms.  Sheesh!   Once in the famous chamber, we tried to imagine State of the Union addresses from the past and where everyone sits.  As it happens, there was an active debate on the floor concerning the definition of full-time work.  Having spent my career in Human Resources I wanted to chime in with my opinion but I got the distinct impression they were not taking comments from the gallery.  Besides, I already knew the Security Guards on a first name basis.  One more disruption from me and I would have been touring the Capital clinker.

A beautiful building, and the cafeteria serves a great chocolate chip cookie.

Our beautiful Capital, and the cafeteria serves a great chocolate chip cookie too.

Once our term on Capital Hill ended, we took a pedi-cab back to the Smithsonian American History Museum.  Unfortunately, several busloads of intermediate school kids had been let off there to further their education.  Here’s all I’ll say about that:  if you are going to send your child on field trip to Washington, they should be going on tours, not goofing around with their friends as if they’re at the food court of the local mall.  I think I’m getting old.

Finally, we ventured back to Bethesda and to Tommy Joe’s for dinner.  It was our luck that it was Trivia Night.  We named our team “Elementary, My Dear Watson” and took second place.  It was delightful to play as a team; because we spanned so many decades between us, we got most of the answers right.  We only lost because we didn’t quite understand the bonus point system, which Abby tried in vain to explain to us.  We should have let the youngest of our group be in charge.  Anyway, we won a $20 gift card for our efforts.  And Watsons, being nothing if not thrifty, used it when we toured Bethesda the next day.

All in all, I have to say it was the trip of a lifetime.  Even though I made no progress regarding my insurance.  To spend five days with my niece was a gift – we have always enjoyed each other’s company so it was special to share this with her.  And I have to say that if my two great-nieces are any indication of the future generation, we’re all in good hands.  They “get” history and appreciate those who have gone before them.  And for the 26 miles we walked in four days, they were extremely kind about “waiting up” for their Old Aunt Sue.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933

When last I left you I was in Washington DC,  exhausted, achy and feeling every day of my age.  But sleep is a magical antidote and sure enough, the next morning I was raring to go.   After another trip on the Metro (we had already learned how to shove ourselves into a crowded train car), we began our day at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  If left to my own devices, I would still be wandering around there. If you love history, The Smithsonian is nirvana.  We toured it twice and STILL didn’t visit every exhibit.  We loved the wing that displays various artifacts from the Presidents’ administrations but were particularly enthralled with the Inaugural Ball gowns of the First Ladies.  Not only were they beautiful examples of couture fashion, but the exhibit gives you a different perspective on the size of the women who wore them.  For example, I always thought of Eleanor Roosevelt as a rather large woman but her dress would indicate the opposite.  So maybe it was just her height that made her seem big.  Or it could be that since this was her first of FOUR Inaugural gowns, the talent of the White House pastry chef took its toll.  I saw a picture of her 1945 gown and let’s just say that by then even a good pair of Spanx would not have helped her into the gown from 1933.  And who among us can’t relate to that?

Holocaust Shoes

A fraction of the shoes in the display

Next we went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I have always had a special interest in WWII so I was anxious to see it.  I was particularly heartened to see that Katie and Abby were very interested in learning more about it and absorbing all that they could.  The building itself is a marvelous structure, four stories high, light in the center atrium but dark and somber on the perimeters.  As you begin the journey through the museum with movies, pictures and artifacts from the early years of the war, the hallways are quite narrow and gives one a slight sensation of what it must have been like to be hoarded like cattle to an unknown destination – everyone pushing and jockeying for position.  To compare one section or display of the museum as being the “most” anything – frightening, scary, sad, depressing – is futile.   Each person needs to judge for him/herself what is the most meaningful.  Personally, I found the exhibit of over 4,000 shoes on loan from the Auschwitz museum the most unforgettable.  Shoes and other personal items  were taken from the prisoners upon entry to Auschwitz and sorted for distribution to local citizens or shipment back to Germany.  At the end of the war when the camp was liberated there were hundreds of thousands of shoes piled up.  In 1945 when the great journalist Edward R. Murrow visited Auschwitz he saw the shoes and wrote the following:  “One shoe, two shoes, a dozen shoes, yes.  But how can you describe several thousand shoes?”  The fact is, you can’t.

After the emotional experience of visiting the Holocaust Museum we were in need of fresh air and food.  We found our way to the Shake Shack – one of the more delightful eating establishments I’ve frequented.  As the name implies, there is ice cream involved here.  LOTS of ice cream.  We each had burgers and possibly the best french fries I’ve ever tasted and then moved in for the real deal…ice cream.  How good was it?  I could have taken a bath in it.  I’m glad I don’t live in D.C. – I’d be a Shake Shack junkie.  As it was, I needed to get on with the business of why I really came to Washington.

This is as close as they let me get

This is as close as they let me get

The fact is, I have had my medical insurance cancelled due to the ACA.  All I did was raise my deductible way back in 2010 and – whammo! – they cancelled me this year.  Lots of people In Washington had assured me that if I like my policy I could keep it, so I decided I’d go right to the horse’s …. mouth to get some answers.  I started with the White House.  We had requested a tour and I thought perhaps I could just ever so briefly pop into the Oval Office to see if the President would hear me out.  Unfortunately, they told us that they weren’t giving tours that day.  The picture (left) is as close as I got to the Oval Office.  I was going to shout my questions across the lawn but there were some men on the business end of a some weaponry patrolling the perimeter.    They looked like they had had a lot of experience with “kooks”.  I decided to look elsewhere for answers, which brought us to the National Archives.  Nothing like a little bolstering from the Founding Fathers.  I’m not sure they ever had to deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, but they seemed to be pretty far-sighted on a number of issues so I thought they might also have some insight on deductibles.  Turns out, the line to see the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and the Constitution was the longest we waited in all week.   After 45 minutes we finally were let into the rotunda where the three documents are displayed.  It is somewhat surreal to see them in person, although “see” might be stretching it a bit  For example, the Declaration of Independence was kept in a west-facing window for over 40 years and was thereafter subjected to flash photography until 2012.  So unfortunately it is so faded that unless someone told you you were looking at the Declaration of Independence, you might think you’re looking at an estimate for getting your car repaired.  Still, to see the founding documents is a real thrill and inspired me to continue on my quest.

Be sure you “subscribe” so you don’t miss out on next week’s thrilling conclusion.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Watsons at the Washington Memorial

The Watsons at the Washington Memorial

Several weeks ago my niece, Shelley, asked me if I’d like to accompany her and my two great-nieces to Washington DC over Spring Break. It took me a day to mull it over – not because I didn’t want to go but because I was afraid that “Old Aunt Sue”, as I am affectionately known, might drag down the trip.  After all, my two great-nieces, Katie and Abby, are elite athletes and Shelley is an ace tennis player.  I try to walk 10,000 steps per day, which is about 5 miles, but the sport I excel at is sitting on the couch, knitting and watching re-runs of Downton Abbey.  Often when I move the snaps, crackles and pops that emanate from my back, hips and knees are reminiscent of Rice Krispies.  But what the heck, it was the chance of a lifetime so I packed my ibuprofen and off I went.  Through some cosmic coincidence, my niece’s husband is also a Watson so the trip was dubbed “The Watsons Go To Washington”.  We met up in Dallas and flew into Reagan airport, landing at 12:30 a.m.  I was already way out of my element…even though my “body time” was 9:30, I was ready for bed.  We hopped in a cab and made the rookie mistake of telling our cab driver we wanted the “fastest” route to our Bethesda hotel.  He interpreted that as “speediest” so he took us the long way via freeway vs. the short way via city streets.  So it took 20 minutes and $30 more than it should have.  The rubes had arrived.

The WWII Pacific Memorial

The WWII Pacific Memorial

The next day we set off to see the sights.  We quickly learned the Metro system, which is pretty much like every other rail system in the U.S. – it’s crowded, makes frequent stops, and is full of “interesting” people .  After a 20 minute ride we disembarked in downtown Washington and began our walk to the National Mall.  The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of it.  It spans two miles from the Lincoln Memorial on one end to the Capital Building on the other.  We decided to split up our tour – half one day and half the other.  Since the Lincoln and War Memorials were high on our “must see” list, we began there.  First up was the Washington Memorial.  Unfortunately, it was under construction or as the guides told us, it was undergoing a face lift.  Aha!  Something I could relate to – I felt like I was back in Scottsdale.  We ventured on to the World War II Memorial which is  massive and beautifully thought out.  One side is devoted to the Atlantic theater and the other to the Pacific.  The countries where the fighting occurred and the names of the major battles are listed on the fountains under each cupola.  The most sobering feature was the wall of stars – over 450 gold stars on a field of blue, each star representing 100 men who died in the war.  No WWII vets were visiting when we were there but I imagine it must be overwhelming for them to see such a stunning tribute. 

Abby's perfect picture

Abby’s perfect picture


From there we walked along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to the (you guessed it) Lincoln Memorial.  Let me just say …it is HUGE.  Oh sure,we’ve all seen it in text books and movies but really, you cannot grasp the scale of it until you’re standing on it.  My knees and I would like to report that there are 145 steps from the Pool up to the Memorial…and another 145 back down.  But the trip was totally worth it.  The Gettysburg address is carved on the left chamber and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address on the right.  I was struck by how moving both of those speeches are; they were artfully crafted and in language that is plain yet eloquent.  And most importantly, you get the sense that Lincoln labored over every word until it exactly reflected his beliefs and hopes for the nation.  A bit different from the “double speak” we hear today, written by professional speech writers and delivered via teleprompter.  When we walked around the perimeter of the monument,  Abby, a budding photographer, took the picture (right) that perfectly frames the Washington Monument in the distance.

Next up was the Vietnam Wall.  I’m not sure that anything can prepare you when faced with all of those names on the wall.  It is truly overwhelming.  I knew five boys from my small home town that died in that war.  Seeing their names carved in marble is something I will never forget.  I’ll write more about that experience in another blog.  We sat on a bench near the memorial to rest and plan the remainder of our day.  By this time I was exhausted (mentally and physically) so we ventured to the Reagan Commerce Building for lunch.  I eased myself down in my chair, every bone in my body aching and desperately in need of serious drug intervention.  Alas, I had forgotten to put my ibuprofen in my purse but Shelley saved the day by giving me some of hers.  I don’t think anything has ever felt so good as when those pills started to take effect.  So, now laced with pain-killing drugs, I was ready to go.  We decided to visit one of the lesser-known museums – the National Portrait Gallery.  It is a fabulous museum and, among other things, holds the most extensive portrait gallery of American presidents outside the White House.  I didn’t read the fine print on the information panel and took a picture with my cell phone with the flash feature on.  Apparently this is frowned upon and brought immediate action by the security guards.  I had visions of being hauled off to the hoosegow.  Luckily, they have seen hopelessly ignorant people before and gently told me to turn off the flash.  As if I knew how to do that.  I did notice that they followed me at close range for the rest of the day.

By the time we left the Gallery it was early evening so we headed for the Metro station and back to Bethesda.  I checked my pedometer when we got back to the room and was amazed to see that we had walked NINE miles.  No wonder I was moving like a hippopotamus in three feet of mud.  A break was definitely in order.  Abby worked on editing her photos, Katie went to the gym for a 50 minute run on the treadmill (because nine miles just wasn’t enough exercise), while Shelley and I exercised our arms lifting wine glasses in the bar.  That night I flopped into bed, took more ibuprofen, and prepared for the next day and my real reason for coming to Washington.

To be continued next week…



In Search of the ‘t’ in Mortgage

by Bob Sparrow

Mortgage: a French law term meaning ‘death pledge’.  For me it must be a ‘death wish’.

peter principleThere’s a phrase in the mortgage industry that describes someone who is either new to the business and doesn’t know anything or someone who has been in the business a while and is still clueless.  That phrase is, “He doesn’t even know where the ‘t’ goes in mortgage”.  After a 27-year career in the business, I once again find myself wondering if I remember where the ‘t’ goes, as I was recently presented with an opportunity to get back in the business.  As I considered this prospect, I reflected on my nearly three decades in the business and concluded that I could have been a poster child for the ‘Peter Principle’.  For those unfamiliar with Peter Laurence’s 1969 book, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, it goes like this: if someone is good at something, they get promoted, and if they’re good at that job, they get promoted again, and that keeps happening until they are elevated to a job and stay there because they’re not good enough at it to get promoted.  More simply put, it says that people are promoted to their level of incompetence.   In 1983 I started in the business as a loan originator and was pretty good at it, so was promoted to branch manager and continued through the management ranks until I ended my career as president of a joint venture.  No matter what your political bias, we know that we’ve all seen our share of incompetent presidents.  I was no exception.

If you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, why are you telling me about the mortgage business, you’re suppose to take us on a journey to some off-the-beaten-path place?’  Hey, if I’m going back to work, you’re coming with me!

My reasons for contemplating a return to a business that was a major player in bringing our economy to a screeching halt inMHM 2008 are two fold: 1) I don’t seem to be adjusting very well to a life of retirement, and 2) perhaps I wanted to end my mortgage career doing something that I was good at.  So after twenty hours of on-line course work and hours of studying and passing both a state and a national exam, I received my mortgage license and last week started working as a loan originator for Metropolitan Home Mortgage, a mortgage banker based out of Irvine, CA. (949) 428-0134.

It’s bad enough that I’m getting back into a business that doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations, but to put some whip cream on this mortgage meadow muffin I’ll be specializing in reverse mortgages.  Reverse mortgages or as fredthey’re know in some quarters, Perverse Mortgages, have a rather sullied reputation in spite of the efforts of Fred Thompson, Robert Wagner and ‘The Fonz’ – all espousing the benefits of the loan that pays you.  I call it the ‘Hollywood Loan’, not because of the celebrity pitchmen, but because every loan requires the applicants to go to counseling, which is code in Hollywood for therapy.  I’ve learned that it’s a very complex loan that has changed dramatically since its inception in 1990 and that it’s not for everyone, but it’s a great loan for the right people.

So sister Suzanne and I have sort of switched rolls with me staying close to home and she off cavorting in Washington DC – a trip that you’ll hear about next week.  In the mean time, if I work hard and use spellcheck I may once again find the ‘t’.