By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The dreaded 1040

The dreaded 1040

Well, it’s that time of year again where I get out my green eyeshades and sharpen my pencil in order to calculate our taxes.  I’m actually one of the few people I know who like to prepare taxes – it’s the paying of them I’m not so crazy about.  A few years ago a friend told me about a head-to-head competition he ran between his CPA and TurboTax.  Turns out that TurboTax actually found more deductions.  That was enough for a geek like me; I began using it the following year.  It’s very simple – I input our income, figure out some of the major deduction categories, insert them when prompted and they magically calculate what we owe.  Unfortunately this year, it was a LOT more fun inserting the numbers than it was to read what we owed.  Yikes!  We’re not personally trying to settle the national debt, although the wizards at the IRS and TurboTax evidently think we are.  So there was only one solution – find more deductions.

Dash, the Dependent

Dash, the Dependent

I began by reviewing our charitable contributions.  I thought about all the times I carelessly tossed spare change into whatever charity container sits at the checkout counter at the grocery store.  Certainly I must have thrown at least $1000 in there over the course of a year  Or maybe not.  I perused the list of clothing that we give to the local animal shelter thrift store.  If I actually added in my time to the hand-knit sweaters I donated I’m sure the value of them would skyrocket.  Of course, I’m not sure that the IRS values my time in quite the same way I do.  On closer review of our annual expenses, it became apparent that we spend an awful lot of money on Dash, The Wonder Dog.  So I began to look more closely at the questions that TurboTax was asking me. “Do you have children or other people  you financially support?”  Well, Dash may not technically qualify as people, per se, but those of you who own a pet will certainly testify (perhaps at my IRS hearing) that our pets are just like people.  Better, in some cases.  “Do you pay child or dependent care?”  Dash cannot be left alone for hours on end, which leaves us no choice but to take him to the dog sitter.  And although he may not be a child, there is no question but that he is very dependent on us. “Do you have any higher education costs?”  YES!  Last year we paid to have Dash go through the Canine Good Citizen program which cost us a pretty penny, I assure you.  And I’m willing to bet that he got more out of that than those kids who are drinking their way through Chico State.

A Dog with a JOB

A Dog with a JOB

Finally I decided that I should consult the IRS guidelines on the issue.  Turns out, that in some cases you CAN deduct expenses for your dog.  First, if you’re blind or otherwise handicapped, you can deduct all of the costs associated with a service dog.  There is a lot of paperwork involved to certify that the dog is actually medically necessary.  The IRS does not take the same slap-dash attitude toward this as the airlines, who seem pretty gullible by comparison with all the passengers claiming their dog is necessary for “emotional support” when all they’re really trying to do is avoid the $75 pet fee. Going blind so that I can claim Dash as a service dog seemed like it was taking things a bit too far.  I moved on.  The other way you can deduct your dog is if he has a jobAha!  I can definitely make a case that Dash has a job – he keeps quite busy every day following me around scooping up any food I happen to drop.  But of course it’s always the fine print that gets you and as I read further, apparently the dog actually has to have regular work hours at a place of business.  Like those snarling dogs at the local lumber yard.  And a sign must be posted “Beware – Guard Dog on Duty”.  Hmmmmm, we are so far from that.  We have a front door mat that says “Beware – Our Dog Can’t Hold Its Licker”.

Finally, I gave up on the “Dash deduction” and resigned myself to paying the taxes owed.  Our dad used to say that he never minded paying taxes because it was a privilege to live in this country.  I admire his spirit but I’m not sure if he were alive today he would say the same thing, given budget excesses for $100,000 hammers and million dollar boondoggles by – of all people – IRS employees.  I’m going to send a suggestion in with my tax forms stating how I’d like my tax payment to be appropriated.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

A Taste of the High Life at Desert Highlands

by Bob Sparrow


Suzanne & Bob at Desert Highlands

Suzanne and Alan had their turn in the barrel last weekend – it was their turn to host Alan’s golf group.  It was also a good excuse to celebrate our father’s 101st birthday (although he’s been gone for 14 years) as well as Valentine’s Day. As it happened Linda and I were looking to go to Arizona to see her sister and mine. It was a chance for us to get out of this blustery winter in Southern California (the temperature had dropped below 70 for two straight days!) After a short visit with Linda’s sister, Starlet and husband, Donnie in Apache Junction (I’m sure the visit didn’t seem short to them, they fed us dinner, gave up their bed for the evening and fixed us breakfast the next morning), we headed off to see Suzanne and Al in Desert Highlands. Thank you Donnie and Starlet!

Desert Highlands is a very exclusive gate-guarded golf community in northern Scottsdale, where they’ve lived for the past 15 years. We’ve been there a number of times before and it’s always been great to get together with them, but this time it seemed particularly up-scale.

GOLF course

My view from the ‘transition’

The party on Saturday was exquisite – Suzanne and Al have a beautiful home on the 5th hole of the golf course with an expansive view of the surrounding mountains. They had enough food to feed an army and enough booze to sink a navy. But the highlight, as it should be with any party, was the attendees. If I was expecting a bunch of snooty multi-millionaires, who had little time for interloping relatives (which of course I wasn’t . . . OK, maybe a little), I couldn’t have been more wrong. Really, what should I have expected from classy people like Suzanne and Al? To the person, every one of the guests was genuinely friendly, interesting and engaging. I almost felt like I belonged there, which I had learned the day before that I didn’t.

The day before was one of those very memorable days – one that you’d love to live over and over. We arrived at Desert Highlands golf clubhouse and were met by the golf attendants. They took our clubs and then they took our car! Before I could run after them yelling “Hey, my car’s being stolen”, Al let me know that the club offers a free valet service and that my car would be returned upon completion of the round of golf . . . and no tipping! I knew that!

The manicured golf course, nestled around Pinnacle Peak, is a visual spectacle; even the rough was like fairway, which is a good thing as I spent plenty of time there. I also spent a good deal of time in what they call the ‘transition’ area and quickly discovered that getting through the transition area was a kin to crawling with the French Foreign Legion through the Sahara Desert. Suffice it say that my game allowed me to see the entire golf course and way too much of the ‘transition’ area. It was nonetheless a beautiful golf course, the weather was perfect and I was with good company – I kept telling myself that the score really didn’t matter.

I did managed to play the 19th hole well – the Desert Highlands clubhouse, which was very posh to begin with, had recently been remodeled and was now nothing short of spectacular, with new boulder-framed sitting areas and fire pits around a new, outside ‘Sunset Bar’ over-looking the pool and the city of Scottsdale beyond. Add a cold beer and it doesn’t get much better than this. But it did!


The Gett’s backyard

Friday evening after golf, we were invited to dinner at the home of a very fun couple, Bob & Liz Gett (pronounced jet), friends of Suzanne and Al. The Gett’s home should be called the Grand Desert Highlands Resort – comparing it to a luxurious Ritz-Carlton would be selling their home short!  The 8,500 square foot, elegantly decorated home actually is only out done their beautifully appointed outside living area, with landscape lighting, pool, spa, multiple fire places, giant TV screen, covered barbecue area and . . .and . . . and . . .


Bob & Bob having a Cuban cigar

After a delicious dinner and engaging conversation about the Patriots’ recent Super Bowl victory (Bob & Liz are from the Boston open and they attended the game), we sat outside with after-dinner drinks and watched the city lights of Scottsdale come alive following one of those spectacular Arizona sunsets. Just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any better, Bob asked, “Would you like a Cuban cigar?” Heaven.

Thank you Suzanne and Al for a weekend that our father would have really enjoyed, even at 101!



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Time Capsule

The Time Capsule

I pride myself in being someone who doesn’t hang on to “things”.  My philosophy is that if I don’t use something in a year or so, OUT it goes!  So it was with some embarrassment that as I was cleaning closets the other day I found a box full of “things”.  From the 60’s.  Not my age – the decade.  It was like opening a window to the past, a rather ridiculous past, but past none the less.  Most of the “treasures” were found in scrapbooks from high school.  It was a virtual time capsule from those years, so what should have taken 10 minutes morphed into three hours.  Mostly, I wondered why I had kept some of these things to begin with.  After all, raffle tickets to unnamed events, Greyhound bus passes and newspaper clippings from an Easter hat competition really shouldn’t have been that noteworthy.  Clearly, my “throw everything out” philosophy came long after high school.

The Junior MIss trophy

The Junior MIss trophy

I decided that I would only keep the most sentimental items so I started discarding the low hanging fruit – photos of people whom I no longer remember.  Heck, these days I might not recognize people I met just last month so people from high school are clearly beyond my recall abilities.  Next, I went through some of my sports memorabilia.  There wasn’t much of note.  I got rid of ski lift passes (although it was amazing to see that at one time you could buy a full day pass as Squaw Valley for $6)  and the one  blue ribbon I won on the swim team.  That pretty much took care of the sports section.  Next I threw out all the dance cards, cheerleading campaign buttons and programs from my choir and piano concerts.  Nothing makes me cringe faster that to think of all the poor people who suffered through me pounding on the piano, desperately searching for the right key.  Which brings me to the next thing I found in the box – my Junior Miss trophy from 1968.  For the “talent” portion of the program I played Clair de Lune.  I thought I did a fairly decent job until a boy came up to me at school the following Monday and told me that his dad (a musician) had said I played it like a fourth year piano student, at which point I crowed, “Great!  I only took two years of lessons!”

20150205_150226Next, it was on to all of the miscellaneous items I’d thrown in the box.  These were mostly mementos from places I had visited.  A coaster from the old Hippo restaurant in San Francisco, an autograph from Matty Alou of the SF Giants and a menu from the high school graduation trip I took to Hawaii on Pan American airlines.  Yep – that’s right – they used to give you a full color brochure of your dining choices – in coach.  Better yet, drinks were fifty cents, beer and cigarettes just a quarter.  No wonder so many people got drunk on planes!  Most of my fun came in looking at a couple of old menus I had from two classic dining houses – Sabella’s of Marin and #9 Fisherman’s Grotto in San Francisco.  The menu I had from Sabella’s is actually the wine menu (God only knows how I got my hands on that!).  It’s fun to see that in the heart of what is now known as “wine country” there were only three California wineries listed and the wines were Sauterne, Chablis, Rhine, Burgundy, Chianti and Rose. Not a Merlot, Chardonnay or Cabernet to be found.  And the prices averaged $3.00 per bottle.  The dinner menu from Fisherman’s Grotto was equally depressing – entrees ran from $2.50 for fresh Monterey Abalone to the outrageous charge of $4.00 for Lobster Tail.  Best of all, ice cream was only 30 cents.

It was three hours well spent.  Not only did I get to go down my own personal Memory Lane, but I got to go back in time for a while.  When things were simpler, a bit more elegant, and wine was cheap.

Those Damn National Geographic Expeditions

by Bob Sparrow

NGEIt’s that damn National Geographic Expeditions issue! It arrives at the end of the year with pages of colorful photos that only National Geographic can take, and details of exotic expeditions to places only National Geographic would go and only the very wealthy can afford. I read through it with recognition of some places that I’ve been, but mostly with frustration for the many places I haven’t been and will never get to. So many destinations, so little time. Note to kids: start traveling early!

Expeditions is arranged geographically: North America, South America, Europe, Eurasia, Asia, Africa, Middle East, Oceania, Australia and Polar Regions. Polar Regions? Only National Geographic would plan a trek to Santa’s workshop. I start to peruse the North America section, and an idea comes to me; rather than sit at home and get frustrated while reading about all the places I’m not going, I decide to take this issue to the local Yard House, a pub known for it’s multiple foreign beers, belly up to the bar and travel to these exotic destinations . . . in beer. Not wanting to ‘drink, dream and drive’, I call Uber, which drops me off at my local Yard House – so many beers, so little time. Note to kids: Don’t live close to a Yard House.

As I survey the plethora of beers proffered by the Yard House, it occurs to me that were I to follow the Nationalyard house Geographic Expeditions page-by-page and beer-by-beer, I’d need a liver transplant by the time I got to the end of my driveway, so I take a measured approach and commit to drink only sample-sized beers that I’ve never had before, hoping to both quench my thirst and my travel lust simultaneously.

Expeditions’ first destination in the North America section is Costa Rica; now I haven’t had any beer yet, but I’m already confused.  All this time I thought Costa Rica was in Central America, but who am I to argue with National Geographic? I break the rule about only tasting beers that I’ve never tasted before as I see an Imperial, Costa Rica’s most popular beer. The flavor takes me back a few years to when I was in Costa Rica golfing and zip lining through the rainforest; not at the same time, although my golf score might indicate otherwise. It’s a good start as I turn the page and find myself in Cuba. I ask for a Bucanero, Cuba’s most popular beer, but while the US-Cuba trade agreements are starting to relax, there is still no importing of Cuban products to the US. I say, “What about an Hatuey” (“Gesundheit!”). Hatuey was once the pride of Havana, but is now brewed in Baltimore, which is at least still on the North American continent, I think. They don’t have that either. They have a Puerto Rico beer, Old Harbor; I try it – close but no cigar.

Cabo catchI turn the page and find myself in Cabo San Lucas – the site of my ill-fated fishing trip in 2012. Click on this link to revisit if you’d like – I can’t! My favorite Mexican beer is Modelo, I decide that the rule about only drinking sample-sized beers is a bad rule and down a Modelo to help erase the memory of the fishing trip. I quickly turn the page and find myself in Alaska asking about a beer called the Double Bastard Ale. It’s quite good and remember that the rule about only drinking sample-sized beers is no longer in force so I order a pint of the Bouble Dastard. I’m starting to feel a little jet-lagged or something, and ask Ron, the tar bender, to tell me what other erotic beers he’s got.   He says “Einstock, a beer from Iceland”. I ask if that’s on the North American condiment; he tells me that I left North America several hours ago. Wow, that was quick, this traveling by beer could really catch on.

I decide that I’m having only one more beer today (OK, maybe Ron decided), but I’m not making it a rule, as I don’t do too well with those,Weihenstephan and ask Ron to make the incision about what beer that should be. He says, “Let’s end at the beginning,” which at this point sounds completely logical to me, so he pours me a Weihenstephan, and says, “This beer is from a little town in Bavaria, considered to be the oldest existing brewery in the world.” He continues, “ 1040 is when they started brewing beer there.” I look at my watch and see that it is now 2:40 and am confused, but I guess travel will do that to you. It seems I’ve had enough ‘beer travel’ for one day and call Uber.

Note to kids: Do NOT book your travel through Yard House.