After the Storm

by Bob Sparrow



As you may recall, we left for Spain & Portugal with our backyard turned upside-down, as noted in my blog of April 10, The Storm Before the Calm (Comparison photos to follow).  It was still being finished when we returned and we have been consumed with putting the final touches (outdoor furniture, soft-scape and various tropical accoutrements) on this project that went way over budget – what a surprise!  I guess this is my way of letting you know that the extent of my travels these past two weeks has been to Home Depot, the backyard and back to Home Depot . . . OK, and back to Home Depot again!



The hardscape has mostly remained the same, except for the disappearance of the large planter right outside the patio doors – it’s gone; it broke my heart to have to get rid of one large queen palm and two smaller pigmy palms, but I guess that’s the price of progress.  That center area is now filled with a fire feature surrounded by couches and an umbrella.  The pool has remained the same shape, but it is now surfaced with an ‘aqua white’ pebble tech finish.  The Memorial Garden or as Hawaiians would call it, Ho’omana’o Kihapai, behind the pool, still includes the moais that represent the final resting place for my friend, Don Klapperich, my brother Jack, and me.  Jack and I aren’t there yet, I don’t think, but a bullet from Don’s military, 21-gun salute lies under the far left moai.

The Wall of Masks

Ho’omana’o Kihapai,

The outdoor bar, with a new BBQ, no longer has a large mirror on the wall behind it, but rather a ‘Wall of Masks’.  These are wooden masks from places that I have visited (that have masks), such as Kathmandu, Zimbabwe, Machu Picchu and others, plus there’s room for many more masks, so I hope I can continue to visit some exotic places to fill the wall.



So, that’s what I’ve been doing the last several weeks.  I love to travel and I love getting home, more now that the backyard is finally done.





By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

For a variety of reasons, we will not be taking trips to our usual summer haunts this year.  The primary reason is that Dash the Wonder Dog cannot be at an elevation above 7,000 ft.  We love spending time in Mammoth Lakes each year, but at a whopping 8900 feet, it is out of the question.  So, I’ve been spending time looking for some alternative destinations and during my quest became fascinated with the nicknames people have given states. Each of America’s fifty states has multiple nicknames that have been adopted over the years, though the origins aren’t always clear.  As I read some of the more unique nicknames, I began to wonder how they came about and if there is any logic to them.  We humans usually get a nickname based on something about our physical being – “Stretch” for a tall person or “Lefty” for a left-handed person or a golfer who gambles.  And while it is true that many states developed nicknames based upon things that they identify with or that set them apart, some of the names are so quirky that no one can agree on how they came into being.  I’m looking at you, Indiana. What exactly is a Hoosier?

As it turns out, some of the state nicknames are just like their human counterparts, based on a physical or historical event.  For example, Maine is known as the “Pine Tree” state, while Delaware is known as the “First State”.  Many states adopted animal names that are common to the state, such as the badgers in Wisconsin or the Hawkeyes in Iowa.  California is known as the “Golden State”, not for the Warriors, but for the gold rush.  Today the slogan might be the “exodus state”, but hopefully they can turn that around.

Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State.”  I knew the name was coined when an abundance of men volunteered to join the army, but I assumed it was during the Civil War.  Turns out it stems from the Mexican American War from 1846-1848 when the Tennessee governor asked for 2,600 volunteers and over 30,000 volunteers responded!  Today, the University of Tennessee claims “Volunteers” as its nickname but since 1956 it has used a Bluetick Coonhound dog as the official mascot.  I don’t know how they went from army volunteers to a dog, but anything with a dog is a good thing.  Maybe they wanted to compete with “Uga”, the bulldog mascot for their arch-rivals, the University of Georgia.  If the football teams stink at least they have cute dogs to watch.

Some state nicknames are a bit harder to pin down.  Florida can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be called (insert joke here).  Over the years it has been known as the “Sunshine State,” the “Peninsula State,” the “Alligator State,” the “Everglade State,” the “Flower State,” the “Gulf State,” and the “Orange State.” The official nickname for Illinois is the “Prairie State”, but the state slogan, “Land of Lincoln”, is the more popular moniker and is on their license plates.  That probably reads better than “Murder Capital of the US”.  Some names are bit more derogatory in nature.  Missouri’s nickname, the “Show-Me State”, is not official, but it’s widely used and has a unique origin story. In an 1899 speech, Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said: “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” This became a self-deprecating shorthand for Missouri stubbornness, which can be a somewhat endearing quality – until it becomes toxic.

As for those Hoosiers, while many people think of the wonderful 1986 movie by that name, there are no definitive answers as to how the nickname originated.  Among the theories are a popular greeting to an unexpected knock on the door with “Who’s yere?” turning into Hoosier.  Another theory is that it came about from the nickname of Indiana rivermen – “Husher”. The Indiana Historical Bureau says the prevailing theory on its source is that Samuel Hoosier, a contractor, preferred to hire laborers from Indiana. So we’ll probably never know exactly what a Hoosier is.

My own state nickname is rather boring – the “Grand Canyon” state.  And while it’s beautiful, I think a more apt name might be “Hotter that Hell”, “Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk”, or “It’s Like Living in a Microwave Oven”.  I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce will be calling me anytime soon.


Spain/Portugal Epilogue and Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

Following are some final random thoughts on the trip to Spain/Portugal.

  • Those who have traveled on a planned tour, know that the ‘Tour Guide’ can make or break the trip. So, here’s our tour guide, Daniel.  The ladies thought he was good-looking.  But a pretty face really doesn’t get it with the guys, if you


    don’t have a brain, and a personality.  OK, Daniel was smart (had a law degree), funny, educational, and entertaining.  He made the trip so much more enjoyable!

  • The month of May is a perfect time to visit these two countries – earlier and you’re dealing with cold and rain, later and you’re dealing with extreme heat
  • Red, White or Beer? When asked, at a restaurant, what you want to drink, while some restaurants have a wine list, you’re typically asked, “Red or White?”  Or you may be asked if you want a beer, if so, there is no choice, most restaurants have only one brand of beer – it is good, but that’s it!
  • Bordering on both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, as you might suspect, there is lots of fish on the menu, some I was familiar with, Codfish, Dorada and Tuna along with specialties like Squid, Octopus, Sardines, Anchovies and Cockles. Then there’s Hake (the most popular), Dogfish, Dreamfish & Conger.  Lots of fish!
  • Don’t go to these two countries if you don’t like green olives. It’s one of their leading exports and a dish of them is put in front of you when and wherever you first sit down.
  • It is said that tapas is not a meal, it’s an activity. I have concluded that tapas is a great concept, it allows you to share a variety of foods within your group.  I probably wouldn’t have ordered deep fried egg plant with balsamic and honey, but it was one of my favorites.
  • You’ll find thin sliced ham and a variety of cheeses at breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Only 3 pounds. That’s what I gained in 16 days of eating and drinking lots of wine and beer.
  • 42 miles. That’s how far I walked in the first week.  I’m guessing that contributed to only 3 pounds of weight gain.
  • We were introduced to ‘El Camino Santiago’, or the ‘Way of St. James’, which is a pilgrimage that over 200,000 people take every year from various places in Europe to the northwest corner of Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Composteia, where tradition holds that the remains of the apostle of St. James are buried. We were shown a movie, called The Way, starring Martin Sheen that depicts this pilgrimage.  Daniel, our guide, had done the pilgrimage twice.
  •  The absolute highlight of the trip was traveling with great friends – so thank you Mike & Tanis Nelson, Bob & Jeanne Pacelli, Rob & Stefanie Warren and Marc & Lisa Webb – great neighbors and great travel companions

The photo finish . . .

Rub the ass of this statue in Madrid for good luck

The Three Stooges


Dinner or bait?


Andalusian ready to give birth

Travelers, not tourists


Passage to Portugal

by Bob Sparrow


We leave the magnificent city of Seville and the beautiful country of Spain for Portugal.  I have come to learn that Spain and Portugal are like sibling rivals but without the brotherly love.  The fact is, they really don’t like each other much, but it doesn’t matter, we like them both.  Shortly after crossing the Portuguese border, we stop at a tile museum and tour through it; at the end of the tour is a glass of Portugal port wine waiting for us – so far Portugal is looking just like Spain – lots of wine!

We are staying three nights at a beach resort in the coastal town of Cascais (pronounced CASH–KAI-SH), our hotel is an old fortress right on the water, with a marina right next to us.  It is a short walk to town along the beach as we take in the sites, which include a ‘no-hands’ beach volleyball game, just like regular volleyball, but you can only contact the ball with your feet, your chest, or your head – very interesting; and the guys we were watching were very good.  We go to an out-of-the-way place (meaning it’s not in the middle of all the touristy area) for a chicken dinner – maybe the best tasting chicken I’ve ever had.  The next day we tour Lisbon, which is about an hour bus ride away.

No, not the Golden Gate

The parallels between Lisbon and San Francisco are amazing; both built on a hill, both have a ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ (see photo), both have cable cars and both had devastating earthquakes that reconfigured the city.  As we toured, we learn the extensive history of the many Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan – they literally ruled the world in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. After a streetcar tour of the city, we go to dinner and experience a Fado exhibition.  Fado?  I didn’t know either, but it is a form of Portuguese folk music that is typically mournful and melancholy.  The show we saw featured a singer, a stand-up bass player, a rhythm guitar player and the virtuoso of the group, a 12-string Spanish guitar player, who picked with a thumb pick and one finger pick and made the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard come out of a guitar – he was amazing!!  A very fun evening.

Fado musicians

The next day we head to the little town of Sintra, in a wooded area that has been a favorite summer residence of Portuguese kings for the past six centuries.  We explore a Disney-like castle, Quinta da Regaleira, with a Gothic facade and beautiful gardens.  We are back in Cascais in time to enjoy our ‘farewell dinner’, where we will say goodbye to our tour guide, Daniel and the ten ‘other’ travelers in our group.

Quinta da Regaleira

The ten ‘hood members stay an extra day for an excursion to Fatima, Nazare and Obidos.  We are now in a Sprinter van with a local tour guide for our first stop, Fatima.  Next to the Vatican, Fatima is probably the most revered place for those of the Catholic religion, as it’s the place where, in 1917, three Shepard children saw the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  One of the three children’s final resting place is in the church at Fatima – a pretty impressive place.  Our next stop is Nazare, a popular seaside resort known for its 100-foot waves – yes, one hundred feet high!!!   It is a surfers’ Mecca, although some have lost their lives to the huge waves.  The big waves come in November and December, so we have a great lunch and see a beautiful coast line.  Our final stop is at the ancient walled-city of Obidos, which was originally a Roman settlement (This is why you travel, we don’t have any Roman settlements in the US).  Interesting side note, the Church of Santa Maria in Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra in 1441, when they were both still children aged 9 and 10, respectively.  You don’t see that much in the US either!


The next morning we are on our way to the airport and the bitter-sweet journey home – bitter for the end of our amazing adventure, but always good to get to home sweet home.


Thursday: Epiloge of Spain & Portugal Journey and perhaps a ‘Photo Finish’

The Sites of Seville

by Bob Sparrow

Seville Cathedral

Today we head to Seville, but before we get into the ‘cultural center’ of Spain, we stop at an olive oil farm, which produces not the most, but some of the best, olive oil in Spain.  An on-site guide walked us through their olive orchard, as well as their ‘press room’ and gave us the history of the olive farm as well as the process for producing different kinds of olive oil.  At the end of the tour, we go to the tasting room where we sample some of their latest harvests and were able to buy some – can’t wait to try it at home.

It’s back on the bus as we head into Seville, the fourth largest city in Spain.  We check into our hotel, another ‘H10’, which I had not heard of before, but we stayed in several of them on this trip and I’d highly recommend them, especially the rooftop bars!  We visit the Seville Cathedral, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, it took over 100 years to build; it is huge and awesome!!!

Columbus tomb in Seville Cathedral

There’s some controversy about where his final resting place is, but the Spaniards claim that the tomb of Christopher Columbus is here in the Seville Cathedral – it is quite a display.  There is no controversy as to the fact that Columbus left from Seville on his famous exploration of the New World.  But, you say, “Seville is 30 miles from the ocean, how can that be?!”  Yes, it is, but it is connected to the ocean by the Guadalquivir River, which is deep and wide enough to handle the largest of Spanish galleons.  In fact, this in-land port was preferred by sailors as it was a great protection against pirates.  A pirate would have to come 30 miles up the river to steal anything and then would have to go back the only way out, which was heavily fortified and in fact blockades could be set up to keep a ship from getting to the ocean.  So, Seville became a very popular and profitable port.  Some of us made the 40-story hike to the top of the church tower, which provided a panoramic view of the entire city as well as a test of the lungs and legs.

Mirador Setas

We next visited Mirador Setas, a huge wooden structure in the middle of the city square, built in 2005.  We were able to walk on it and get some spectacular views of the city, it is quite an interesting structure.  There is a small theater at the bottom of the structure where we watched an amazing video of Spain – very reminiscent of the Disney ride, ‘Soaring Over California’ video where one is ‘flying’ over the city and into several of the historic structures – awesome!!

I don’t recall the name of the restaurant where we had dinner (some Spanish name I think!!), but the meal was possibly the best dinner I’ve ever had – the main dish was salmon, but I was so full with all the delicious tapas that came before it, that I could barely finish it – it was all so delicious, including the wine!

We next have a local guide give us a city tour and then we get do a carriage ride through another part of the city, that took us to Plaza de Espana, Maria Luisa Park and many other sites of interest – beautiful.  Excellent weather the entire time helped make everything that much better.  Prior to dinner we have a flamenco lesson, which was given by a local teacher and showed most of us that we are not even close to being coordinated enough to do this dance.  Our dancing looked more like flamingos than flamenco!   We then go to a theater and see a flamenco show, complete with guitar player, a singer and a male and female dancer.  For me, the dancing was awesome, as was the guitar playing, but the singing left a little to be desired.  It was more whaling than signing.  When the female singer started, Linda turned to me and said, “Someone should fall 911, this person sounds ill”, but others seemed to like it.

Plaza de Espana

For dinner, we were free to go anywhere in the city.  Before I tell you where we went, I need to tell you what our tour guide, Daniel said about being a visitor to a foreign country.  “Know the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler?  We made a few guesses, but he finally told us, “A tourist tries to make the country adapt to him or her, a traveler tries to adapt to the country.”  So, mostly we tried to be ‘travelers’, but after a week of foreign food, we saw a place that had a sign that said, ‘Hamburgers – different, but delicious’; that’s where we had dinner – it was a little different, but delicious!

Next time we leave Spain and head to Portugal . . .


Historic Cordoba

by Bob Sparrow


We head inland to Cordoba, the second oldest city in the world, which once had a population of over one million people, but now has about 325,000.  This city, like much of the surrounding area, was first populated by the Romans (for about two centuries from 200 BC), then it was taken over by the Visigoths (a Germanic state), then occupied by the Muslims from 711 to 1492, then finally taken from the Muslims, in the Reconquista, by the Christians lead by forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.   Lots of history in this city!


But prior to getting to Cordoba, we visit the ancient city of Ronda, which sits on two spectacular cliffs connected by the visually spectacular Puente Vuevo (New Bridge).  After a stroll through the town, it has been arranged with a local family, that we would have lunch at their house.  The husband, who is a professional chef prepares our meal and his wife tells us about the town and how she grew up there.  Of course, the first order taken was for beer or wine, then a magnificent array of food was presented in about 4-5 courses – I can’t even discribe the food, but it all were very tasty!  Then back on the bus, Gus and off to Cordoba.

Lunch at Ronda home

On the outskirts of Cordoba we stop and visit a horse ranch and get a tour of the facilities and a training demonstration.  The horses are magnificent and range in breed from Arabians, French and Spanish Andalusians.  These horses are bred for show not for racing and they are beautiful, well-disciplined animals.  We thought we might get to see one of of the Andalusians give birth, but she wasn’t quite ready, and those things cannot be rushed.  One of the other really cool things to see at work were the Border Collie dogs that worked with the trainers to keep the horses in line – amazing!  We had another great dinner – maybe at the end of this trip I’ll try to sum up the variety of food we’ve been treated to – it’s different than what we get at home and excellent!


The highlight of any tour to Cordoba is the magnificent Mezquita, which was a Muslim Mosque turned into a Catholic Cathedral when the Christians defeated the Moors to take over the city.  At the time we arrive in Cordoba the ‘Annual Fair’ was going on this week, which helps clear the city streets, as everyone is on the outskirts of town at the fair, well, most everyone, there’s still a lot of people roaming around and we see a lot of pretty ladies dress in full-length, colorful flamenco dresses going through town.  The other event that just took place here is the ‘patio judging’, where anyone who wants to participate can fill their typical four-walled patio with flowers and other decorations to win prize money.  We get a chance to see some of the top patios – very cool.  We are told that watering all the plants in one of these patios typically takes between 2.5 – 3 hours a day!  Dinner on our own is schedule at a great restaurant in the Jewish section of town.  Fortunately, they put us in our own room as we tend to get quite noisy, which we did this night.  Well, bottomless wine was included with the dinner, so we didn’t want to make them feel bad about not drinking their wine, so we made sure we had plenty.  As I’m getting ready to start talking about going to Seville, I forgot that, in Malaga, we ate at Antonio Banderas’ restaurant,  El Pimpi; he wasn’t there, but the food was very good!  Back to Cordoba so we can head to Seville – I think that Spanish wine is affecting my memory.

Next is Spain’s ‘Cultural Center’ – Seville . . . I think!