By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Great combo – Medicare and Cake!

Three weeks ago I celebrated what might be my last “anticipatory” birthday – I turned 64.  These “anticipatory” birthdays are something that I completely fabricated (like a lot of other things I write about) to recognize that some years, all we really want to do is get to the next birthday.   For me, since my health insurance is being cancelled as of December 31, I am waiting in breathless anticipation to turn 65 and be eligible for Medicare.  Hopefully “breathless” is a slight exaggeration since I would prefer to be breathing when I turn into an official Senior Citizen.

But this birthday got me to thinking about other “anticipatory” birthdays I’ve had.  The first was when I turned 12 and couldn’t wait to be 13 – an official teen-ager.  I imagined all sorts of wonderful things would happen once I was finally in my teens.  Alas, all I got was a few pimples and wild hormonal shifts.  After that, I focused all of my attention to turning 16, when I could finally get my driver’s license.  Every teen-ager dreams of that day when the world opens up and you can cruise Main Street unsupervised. I spent my entire 15th year counting down the days to 16.   I took all of the requisite driver’s ed classes and then suddenly lost my desire to drive.  As I look back on it, I think I may have been unduly influenced by the teacher screaming in my ear and his constant pumping the imaginary brakes on his side of the car.  Or maybe, it was because

A 1962 Fiat - the size of a shoe

A 1962 Fiat – the size of a shoe

the car that I would have been driving was my mother’s 1962 Fiat.It was a strange, VERY small car, something akin to today’s Smart Car,only without any safety features whatsoever.  It also had something called “compound low”.  I was never sure what that meant other than anytime we needed to go up a slope greater than 3 degrees, my mother had to shift it into that gear.  So I actually waited until I was 17 to get my license, when my mother had upgraded to a 1967 Chevy, approximately the size of the Queen Mary.

The next great expectation was turning 20 – only twelve more months until I could drink!  Legally.  Actually, I didn’t have to wait a full year since my boyfriend at the time (well over 21) decided to “doctor” my driver’s license by scraping off the left-hand circles of the “8” , thus turning it into a rather lopsided “3”.  So all that spring and summer I flashed my license at every bartender and was served without so much as a farethewell.  I don’t think any of them were fooled by the amateurish editing on my license but drinking laws were not quite as strict then and I looked like I was good for the $1 beer tab.  Only I didn’t drink beer.  I decided it was ever so sophisticated to drink Gimlets.  I don’t know how or why I got that into my head – I probably had watched some old “Thin Man” movie and saw Myrna Loy drinking them.

A Gimlet - a surefire hangover

A Gimlet – a surefire hangover


And then since age 21 there’s been a dearth of “anticipatory” birthdays.  Sure, I’ve had parties to celebrate the beginnings of new decades, but other than having to start my age with a new number, they were all rather meaningless.  So I was convinced this was going to be my big year until I remembered that I’m not eligible for Social Security until I turn 66.  So I actually have ONE MORE big “anticipatory” birthday after this! I also learned this week that some people have additional anticipatory birthdays beyond Social Security.  Jimmy Fallon noted last week that Bill Clinton turned 68 or as Fallon “quoted” him – one more year until the “fun” one!

In any event, I will celebrate the coming year in style.  I will collect the deluge of supplemental medicare flyers that will come my way.  I will set up an Excel spreadsheet and compare each one and get my paperwork in three months early.  I will schedule an appointment for a physical and hope that I need some test that is horribly expensive, where I can just flash my Medicare card and have it all paid for by someone other than me.  I will, at last, be a “taker” rather than a “giver”.



My Assault on the Old Western White House

by Bob Sparrow

Nixon goodbye     It was hard to avoid the stories on the news these past few weeks about the 40th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon, a seminal moment in presidential history. It was August 9, 1974 and I can still see him on that fateful day, climbing the stairs to the helicopter that was waiting for him on the White House lawn, reaching the door, turning to those standing by and flashing that goofy, sweat-on-the-upper-lip smile, arms out-stretched and hands in his signature ‘victory’ sign. I’m unclear about exactly what victory he thought he was celebrating, but I’m fairly certain once he got into the chopper, Pat Nixon said something like, “Wipe that stupid grin off your face Dick, you just lost your frickin’ job!”


Nixon looking for change

The helicopter took him to Air Force One, which flew him to Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base, where be boarded another helicopter that whisked him to the Western White House just up the road in San Clemente. I guess officially it was no longer the Western White House, since by the time he got there he was no longer president. It is said that Nixon spent the next several years looking for loose change as he walked along the beach in his suit and tie.

Nixon bought (using a political supporter to finance the deal) 26 acres on the ocean at Cotton’s Point in 1969 for $1.5 million; then sold all but 5.9 acres, which was where the main house was and lived there until 1980. I lived and sold real estate in San Clemente while Nixon was living there, so I was very familiar with the estate at Cotton’s Point, but of course, we ‘commoners’ weren’t allowed anywhere near the property unless we could tell his Secret Service Agents the secret password. I was to learn years later that it was, “I’m not a crook”, said with a goofy smile, flapping jowls and a ‘victory sign’.

In light of this anniversary, I thought it might be interesting to visit this historic place and see if I could now get a peek at what Nixon called, ‘La Casa Pacifica’.  It was not interesting . . . it was humiliating.


My welcome at the Cypress Shores guard house

I first tried the direct approach to getting close to the old Nixon compound by driving up to the first of two gated guard stations at Cypress Shores and begged to be let in. I was summarily turned away. I then drove to the nearest public entrance to the beach and, channeling Nixon, donned a coat and tie and walked about a mile and a half on the beach to get in front of his former house, then searched for a ‘bird’s eye view’ vantage point. While walking along the beach I noticed two things, 1) people look oddly at someone in a suit and tie on the beach, and 2) there are still plenty of teenage girls laying out trying to get a tan, which bodes well for the future employment of skin doctors.


Drone made to look like a seagull

Nixon disguise

Channeling Richard Nixon




A supposed ‘fishing troller’!

In my Nixon disguise I was able to get to the fence line of the property without raising too much suspicion, and there, snap a few pictures, but the ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs and barbwire fence impeded any further progress. I looked around for a breach in the fence line and noticed a fishing troller about 200 yards off shore and then realized that it wasn’t a fishing troller at all, but rather a Secret Service command station keeping a close watch on the shoreline for people just like me. Overhead I noticed what was ostensibly a flock of seagulls, but I quickly detected that the seagull in the middle was humming – no question in my mind it was a spy drone made to look like a seagull.

out of ocean

Not a Navy Seal

Western White House

I’m sooo close!

Undaunted, I retreated back to a staging area where I stripped down and decided a beachfront assault from the ocean was my best opportunity to get a closer look at the former residence. Upon entering the water I realized that there had just been a great white shark citing two days earlier. In my head I heard ‘Jaws’ music and made a quick exit.

Just as I got dressed and was formulating my next plan of attack, a young female security officer came up to me with her Taser gun at the ready and personally escorted me off the beach. I told her I wasn’t a crook, but she said she’d heard that one before.


My escorted exit

As I walked away I realized that my day ended in failure, much like Nixon’s presidency.  The security guard was watching me as I left the beach to make sure I got in my car and left the premises.  Feeling a little sweat on my upper lip, I turned and gave her the ‘Nixon victory sign’;  I thought I saw her smile as she raised the Taser gun and motioned me to get in the car.





By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


2014-07-04 13.22.24-1

Gracie Gold…practicing her spins.

Let’s see…where were we before my brother went off into the wilds of Montana, losing both his wi-fi and his dignity as he chased after Sandra Bullock?  Oh yes, my husband and I were just starting a wonderful two month vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho.  We were enjoying the hikes, golf and watching the Olympic skaters who perform there every Saturday night.  We were ignoring the obnoxious people who frequent the town this time of year.  We had BIG plans for the summer.  And then something went terribly wrong.  It started out innocently enough.  My husband discovered a small, red spot on his forehead.  Now, let me just say right here that men react differently to illness than women.  When women get a cold they still have to go to work, cook dinner, take the kids to school, and generally run the household.  When men get the sniffles they take to their beds as if galloping pneumonia was going to carry them of to their great reward at any moment.   Okay, that’s a generalization.  But I’ve found in talking with my girlfriends that it’s got enough basis in fact that I think we can rely on it as “conventional wisdom”.  So I brushed off his complaints as being a bit overly dramatic.


Frankly, I was certain that it was a bug bite.  After all, we were in the mountains.  Plus, the wonder dog (who sleeps on our heads) had been running around in the bushes.  The second day, when the spot seemed a bit larger, he was worrying in the mirror over it, and asked me to look at it with the flashlight to see if I could see anything.  I did.  I saw a red spot.  On the third day, when two other spots appeared nearby, I told him to take a Benadryl and slap a little Calamine lotion on it.  But the next morning, he insisted on seeing a doctor, convinced he had the Ebola virus, or something close to it.  So off we trudged to the local clinic.  Usually when he is ill I go in to the exam room with him, figuring that two sets of ears are better than one.  This time, however, I let him go in alone, convinced he would come out chagrined about a bug bite diagnosis.  Besides, I was in the middle of a really good book.  So I stayed in the waiting room.  He came out ten minutes later, looking a bit shell-shocked.  He began to walk over to me, shaking his head.  This was not a good sign.  When he reached me he just said one word: “Shingles”.

We are of an age where several of our friends have had shingles and none of them have one good word to say about it.  We both envisioned large welts and agonizing pain.  Armed with an antiviral prescription, we went to the local pharmacy, where, as luck would have it, the pharmacist told us she had shingles just last year.  Great – an expert!  She assured us that the medicine would reduce the length and severity of the shingles.  I mentioned that I had been tested a couple of years ago and turns out I never had chicken pox, from whence the shingles virus originates.  I caught just the slightest rise of her eyebrow, but then she told us that it is actually pretty hard to transfer the virus.  Luckily, his shingles were a mild case, he never had any pain, and was back hitting golf balls within the week.


Us…under quarantine


However, contrary to our “expert” pharmacist’s opinion, apparently it actually isn’t that hard to transfer the virus.  Sure enough, two weeks later I started getting chills and fever.  After four days, spots began to appear on my body.  I’m no genius but even I could figure out that I was coming down with “the pox”.  So back we went to the clinic.  Chicken pox for children means a week out of school and your mom bringing you endless bowls of ice cream and Jello.  For an adult, however, it is quite a different matter.  The doctor told us that the particular type of pneumonia that is caused by adult chicken pox can come on suddenly and lead to death if not attended to right away.  He said in a week either the medication would do its job or I would be in the hospital.  Alrighty then…that got our attention.

So…we made the decision to leave Sun Valley the next day and drive back to Scottsdale.  I figured if I was going to get really sick, it was going to be in my own bed with my own doctor nearby.  My dear husband earned a lifetime of brownie points by completely packing up our belongings, shipping most of it back to our house via UPS, and then loading up the car.  I think this means I can never say anything bad about him again.  At least for a while.  We took off, spending the night in Ely, Nevada again (see blog of July 7) where, contrary to common sense and a need for rest, I laid awake all night worrying that my fever would spike in Ely and I would never see real civilization again.  Luckily, however, we made it home where I saw my own doctor and am now practically recovered.

As for our summer – well, it hasn’t exactly gone as planned.  But isn’t that just the way life is?  We are loving being back in our own home, I am strategizing a re-decoration of the family room, and we are planning for our trip to California in September.  So it’s all turned out okay.  But I’m not sure we’ll be going back to Sun Valley any time soon – the “bug bites” up there really suck.

Note to Self: It’s Not Nice to Piss Off Mother Nature!

by Bob Sparrow


Revenge of Mother Nature

Last week while at Yellowstone National Park, I made the obligatory stop at ‘Old Faithful’, waiting nearly an hour-and-a-half in 90-degree heat for the great eruption. I was summarily disappointed when a paltry stream of hot water and steam limped out of a hole in the ground for about  a minute, issuing an odor of rotten eggs. In a previous blog I compared it to the excitement of a car radiator heating over and suggested that travelers should absolutely take in the beautiful flora and fauna of the park, but not go out of the way to see ‘Old Faithful’, which has become . . . irregular.

Well, it seems that Mother Nature reads our blog and was not the least bit amused by my characterization of her most famous geyser. The day after I got home from the trip, I was working in my home-office, which overlooks my back yard, when I heard a gushing sound coming from outside.  I looked out the window and saw water shooting up out of my lawn and into the air some 25 feet – I had ‘Old Faithful’ right there in my back yard (and in my neighbors back yard as well). I had a broken sprinkler line. I turned off the main water valve and looked skyward and promised not to bash ‘Old Faithful’ again.

2014-07-26 17.32.41

Being as ‘faithful’ as ever!

So I’ve included this wonderful picture that I took of this geographical wonder and have discovered through some additional research that while we were told at the time that the geyser erupts ever 26 minutes, I’ve come to learn that it is suppose to erupt every 91 minutes, which is about what it did when we were there. I won’t remind you that it still smelled bad and it only lasted a minute or so.  What’s that gurgling sound?  Oh shit, gotta go.


Got Subscription?  It’s easy and relatively inexpensive ($0 down, $0 monthly).



Glacier National Park and The ‘Unhappy Camper’

by Bob Sparrow

Linda motorcycle

Linda in route from Minnesota to California in 1972

Depending on your perspective, this is the ‘natural’ part of our trip or the ‘natural disaster’ part of our trip; Linda shares the latter perspective. To help frame this, you need to know that Linda was raised on a dairy farm in rural southern Minnesota; there was no indoor bathroom facilities for the first 5-6 years of her life, so she used an outhouse, which was about fifty yards from the house; which in the winter was fifty yards too far and in the summer, fifty yards too near. Pheeeew. Linda left the farm for California immediately after graduating from college . . . on a motorcycle. No, she wasn’t a passenger, she was driving. Linda plays golf and walks the course. I say all this to establish the fact that she is not a wussy, but she is also not a lover of the great outdoors. Wilderness to her is the rough along the 4th fairway at Yorba Linda Country Club.   ‘Roughing it’ is a Marriott without valet parking. She believes that people who had no cars invented hiking. So over the last three days of our trip, we are operating on two totally different wavelengths, sounding something like the following:


The ‘Unhappy Camper’

Lake McDonald in Glacier Nat’l Park

Four mile hike to Avalanche Lake:

2014-07-30 13.58.59

Avalanche Lake

One perspective: “The trailhead starts at a waterfall where the Avalanche Creek cascades magnificently into Lake McDonald and weaves back through the majestic pines to Avalanche Lake, a serene, crystal clear lake set in a glacial valley surrounded by 7-8,000 foot mountains.

Another perspective: “The waterfall’s pretty and the lake is nice, but there are too many trees between them and I can’t get any phone reception here; apparently there is no Big Cell or Big Wifi in this Big Sky state.”

We check into the Lake McDonald Lodge

One perspective: “What a quaint room, rustic wood beam ceilings, step-saver bathroom and a view of the forest.”

Another perspective: “This is the worst room I’ve ever stayed in, no TV and where’s the mini bar?”


“No I don’t have bear spray, I thought you said hair spray!”

Flora and Fauna

One perspective: “Did you know that in Glacier National Park there are nearly 1,132 species of plants including 20 varieties of trees, over 200 species of birds, nearly 60 species of mammals and 24 species of fish, including 18 native?”

Another perspective: “No, but if these damn mosquitos don’t leave me alone, I’m going to eradicate one entire species myself.”

Going to the Sun Road

One Perspective: “This is one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever driven on, look at the water falls and rock formations here on the Continental Divide.”

Another Perspective: “Keep your eyes on the road!  Couldn’t they have just blown a tunnel through the mountain instead of creating this road along these cliffs?  Who wants to go to the sun anyway?”

View from Many Glacier Lodge

View from Many Glacier Lodge

Many Glacier – Hike to Johns Lake

One Perspective: “I know it’s early, but do you want to take a quick 3 mile hike before breakfast to John’s Lake, the walk along the river is beautiful?”

Another Perspective: “Zzzzzzzzzzz”

Five mile hike to St. Mary’s Falls

One Perspective: “These are spectacular falls”

St. Mary Falls

St. Mary Falls

Another Perspective: “If they’re so spectacular, why didn’t they build the road closer to them? Oh crap, I broke a nail.”

Into Canada and to The Prince of Wales hotel.

One Perspective: Great old railroad hotel with spectacular views

Another Perspective: No elevator and we’re on the 5th floor? No cell, no wifi, no Starbucks and I’ve seen this view on the Internet. When do we check out?

For someone who wonders why people would want to walk through a forest without any real purpose, she did pretty well particularly in light of the emotions she was going through with her father’s health. She did enjoy the scenery and the company of Moose (Pat), Rocky (Pam), Glacier (Bob P), Current (Jeanne), Digger (John) and Dug (Lisa), Slot (Linda) and Akeem (me) – it’s a unpublished rule that you have to have a mountain/hiking name.

Prince of Wales Hotel

Prince of Wales Hotel


View from PofW Hotel

View from Prince of Wales Hotel

Now that I’m home and have the luxury of wifi, I’ve attached the pictures to the 3 previous posts – Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Flathead Lake that you can revisit in the archives, including the video of the buffalo walking next to our car.  (Yes, I learned how to insert a video into the blog!).  All the pictures, including the ones here, are mine, except the one of Linda on the motorcycle in 1972.

Luxury on Flathead Lake

by Bob Sparrow

Wild Horse

Flathead Lake’s Wild Horse Island

We were all feeling a little puny the next morning, but breakfast at the ‘Running Bear Pancake House’, (Drinking in the buff, eating running bare, what’s next, a game of naked Twister?) sustained us for the scenic drive through Butte and Missoula into Polson, Montana on the south shore of Flathead Lake, where there are plenty of taxidermy shops, but by the time we got there the only animal I wanted stuffed was me. With Linda’s father on the mend, she flew out of Minnesota into Missoula and we picked her up on our way through.


Nelson’s lakefront home

Mike & Tanis, neighbors and owners of a beautiful home on the lake where we were staying, were terrific hosts; they had cocktails waiting for us when we arrived and then prepared a delicious barbecued rib dinner that we enjoyed while sitting on their deck watching the sun set over the lake. After dinner we stepped down to their lakeside fire pit where Mike put on a fireworks show from their dock. We then just enjoyed the billions of stars and movement of satellites in a pitch-black sky on a perfect evening – amazing.


Sign I read before the wild horse approached me

After breakfast the next morning the eight of us headed out in the ‘Nelson Navy’, a speedboat and two Seadoos, to Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake. Driving a Seadoo is as close as I get to riding a motorcycle – it was a blast! Mike had lowered our expectation for Wild Horse Island as he told us that in all the years he’s been going there he’s never seen a wild horse, but he did affirm that it actually was an island. We arrived, docked the watercraft and took a hike in-land around the island. There in a meadow we saw six wild horses. Mike was in disbelief. I got fairly close to try and take a picture and one of the horses, a paint, started walking over to me. I stood there a bit frightened, as I’d never been around a wild horse, much less have one coming directly at me, so I didn’t know if she was going to break into a charge, raise up on her hind legs and clobber me or start counting by scraping her hoof on the ground. Where is my bear spray I thought, and does it work on horses? As a good reporter, I kept videoing as she got within three feet of me. It turns out these horses were more ‘beggars’ then they were wild, as she stood there face to face with me looking up with those big brown eyes that seemed to ask, “Got anything to eat?” I didn’t, so I backed away hoping not to piss her off for not offering her an carrot or something. Further down the trail we saw a herd of long-horned sheep grazing on

I think I'm on a motorcycle

I think I’m on a motorcycle

the hillside and eagles nesting in the trees.

This place was a real natural wonderland. The ride back on the Seadoo was even better than the ride over as the lake was now calm and smooth as glass, so I was able to get that Seadoo up to 40 miles an hour. Wheeeee!

We left the Nelsons the next morning and headed for Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.