Country Roads and AI (Actual Intelligence) – A Minnesota Thanksgiving

by Bob Sparrow

The Road

Minnesota between colors and snow

The narrow, winding road through the rolling hills had two lanes, one in each direction.  The darkening sky reached down to touch the expanse of furrowed fields, which were now brown and barren, but once were, and will be again, the verdant home to acres of corn.  But before that, and for several months to follow, it will be covered in a blanket of snow.  With apologies to Robert Frost, I noticed that in these parts, ‘no fences make good neighbors’, as there are no fences separating properties, whether it’s forty-acre farms or tract homes, no fences, except to keep the cows in.  And while there are no fences between properties like we’d see back home, there are lots of silos, something we don’t have a lot of in California. As I slowed down for a four-way stop, I noticed a middle-aged man, wearing a rust-colored, checkered flannel shirt and a worn Twins baseball cap, walking from his house, down his long, dirt driveway to his mailbox, which sat on a 4 x 4 post where the driveway met the road.  He had his collar turned up to a slight breeze and 13-degree temperature. Hickory, Maple and Oak trees stand bare with  dark branches stretching to the gray sky; only the pines and firs still hold their leaves, waiting for a dusting of snow to put them in their  holiday finary.  I spotted two deer carcasses lying in a ditch on the side of the road, reminding me to drive very carefully as it gets darker.   It had been quite a while since I had driven on a ‘real’ country road – it was at once calming and exhilarating.

The People

Linda, Starlet, Phyllis

I cannot remember the last time Linda and I were not home, hosting family for Thanksgiving, but then again, I can’t remember where I put my car keys this morning.  We typically would have the whole family to our house, which, for the last several years, has also included Linda’s sister, Starlet and husband, Donnie.  But for medical reasons they were unable to ‘snowbird’ from Minnesota to Arizona this winter, and thus were not able to drive over to California for Turkey Day.  So, we decided to take this opportunity to go back to Rochester, Minnesota not only to be with Starlet and Donnie for Thanksgiving, but also to be with Linda’s 97-year-old, sharp-as-can-be mother, Phyllis, who was able to break away from leading her retirement home attendees in their exercise program to join us!  We would also get a chance to see two of Starlet’s daughter’s family, oldest daughter, Denise and husband, Gene and their three kids Garrett, Lindsay and Will, and middle daughter, Debbie and husband, Paul and daughter, Anna and son, Matt; youngest daughter, Ella was unable to make it.

In case anyone has concerns about this ‘younger generation’, here’s a quick bio on Starlet’s grandkids with whom we were able to share the holiday:

Lindsay, Will, Denise, Gene (Garrett had already left for girlfriend’s house)

Grandkids from oldest daughter, Denise and husband Gene

Garrett – Graduated from U of Wisconsin, is now enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, where he is studying Aerospace Engineering – it is rocket science!

Lindsay – Graduated from U of Iowa in Global Health & Physiology and is now working in the health field in Washington DC

Will – A junior at U of Wisconsin studying Electrical Engineering


Grandkids from middle daughter, Debbie and husband, Paul

Debbie, Anna, Matt, Starlet, Donnie, surrounding Phyllis

Matt – Graduated from St. John’s, MN in Mathematics, and is working for Edwards Jones Investment Company and living in Denver

Anna – Graduated with honors (3.96 GPA – What, she got a ‘B’?!!!) in Bio-Chemistry from Sacred Heart in Connecticut, was captain of the women’s hockey team and a candidate for NCAA female athlete of the year.  Now in a Physician’s Assistant program.

Ella – Studying Bio-Chemistry at St. Benedict’s in St Joseph, MN and will follow her mother in becoming a Doctor of Pharmacy

(Not in attendance) Grandkids from youngest daughter Melissa, who is an architect in Houston, and husband, Chris’ two daughters,

Sydney – graduated from U of Texas in Finance

Macy – currently a student at U of Arkansas – getting a teaching degree.

My brain hurt just putting that all together!  The whipped cream on top of this Thanksgiving Day punkin pie (home grown and made by Gene) is that they are all as ‘Minnesota Nice’ as they are smart – parents and kids alike.

Needless to say, we had a great, AND educational Thanksgiving; hope you did too!



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

       Dash and Lilly’s date

Two important events happen in the latter part of November -Thanksgiving and Dash the Wonder Dog’s birthday.  I have much to be grateful for this year, but first things first.  Last Thursday Dash turned 11 and celebrated with his girlfriend, Lilly.  As you can see, he’s licking his chops because she is so darn cute.  She not only brought him a spiffy birthday toy, but she also paid for his breakfast! That made her even more attractive.  She will turn 11 next month and her owners, Bob and Dahl, and I hope Dash and Lilly will be celebrating for many years to come.


             Dash on my leg

I was talking about Dash the other day when someone commented, “You know, he’s got you well trained.  You need to treat him like a dog.”  I’m glad Dash wasn’t within earshot of that comment.  A dog, indeed.  I am well aware that he has the upper paw in this relationship, but it has been well-earned.  After all, he gained his nickname, “The Wonder Dog”, when on his first day in our home, he turned my husband, Alan, from an indifferent dog owner into a complete sap.  Over the years he became our loving companion, whether we were sitting on the couch or traveling hours in a car.  As long as he was with us, we were all content.  He brought joy to others when he worked as a therapy dog and has excited countless children who have approached him for a pat and the occasional lick.  In the past four months since Alan’s death, Dash has been my anchor.  He has provided structure for my day and a reason to get up in the morning.  He demands to be fed (on time!) and jauntily takes me outside for a walk each day.  His head resting on my leg is all the comfort I could ask for. At night, he curls up on a pillow next to mine, and as I nuzzle into his downy fur, he looks me in the eye as if to let me know everything will be okay.  His snoring can resemble a freight train, but mostly it is a rhythmic, soft sound next to my ear that lets me know I’m not alone.  He has a heart condition and eleven is getting up there for a Cavalier, so I don’t know how long I will have him.  But I do know this: as long as I am drawing breath, Dash will be spoiled rotten.

So good it has its own Facebook page

As for Thanksgiving, obviously I will have an empty chair at my table this year.  There have been some moments when I’ve thought about pulling the covers up over my head until January 2 and just let the holidays slide by.  But on reflection, I realized that although life will never again be the same for me, I am lucky to have had almost four decades with a wonderful husband.  Over the past four months I have been blessed by the warm embrace of family and friends, who have sustained me through a very tough time. What better time than the holidays to celebrate that?  So especially this week as we pause to give thanks, I want to express my gratitude to my family, friends and to so many of you who have reached out to me.  You have put the “thanks” in my Thanksgiving.  I wish everyone the very happiest of holidays this week.  Remember to have that second slice of pie!!



















Cruise Epilogue and a Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow



After sailing all night on Friday night, we returned to New York harbor around 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, where I was able to get this great photo of our Miss Liberty and a full moon setting.  Great ending to a great trip!




As most of you know, I love to travel, so when Linda found this cruise and asked if I was interested in going, I said ‘Yes’ before she could finish the sentence.  But, as I previously mentioned, I was not that excited about spending a couple of days in New York and this cruise line was not my favorite.  Additionally, the northeastern coast of the US held no particular interest for me.  As I admitted, I was so wrong about New York and now I can say I was so wrong about the northeast coast; I would highly recommend this tour to all travelers.  My favorite part was probably the mansions in Newport, RI – the stories behind them and just how ostentatious they were is amazing!  The entertainment on board was marginal, other than the casino where I was a small winner at craps, and where Linda was a big winner on the slot machines.  The food, as mentioned, was improved and the staff was excellent, very helpful, friendly and professional.

I recently checked the weather back there and it’s VERY cold, with snow in some places!!  We were so fortunate to have such extraordinarily great weather during the whole cruise.

Following are some additional photos from the trip.

Linda enjoy the song . . . and the singer

In NY, our only day of inclimate weather

The triple treat – shopping bag, ice cream & wine!

Linda checking out a ‘new’ phone system


Monday Night Football Arggggggg!!!

I present you, the Marble House

Lazy Lamp posts in Halifax

“Better luck next time”



                                                “That’s All Folks”

Beautiful Oh Canada – New Brunswick & Nova Scotia

by Bob Sparrow

Pete in Kings Square

St. John, New Brunswick – Prior to this trip I couldn’t tell you the difference between New Brunswick and Old Brunswick.  Oh, there is no Old Brunswick?  So I really wasn’t that excited about getting off the boat in St. John, but now having been there, I’m very excited to tell you about it.  It is a great little town that we had shown to us on Pete’s Walking Tour, yes, the same Pete from Pete’s Pub.  Oh yeah, you don’t know about Pete’s Pub.  Let me start at the beginning.  I must say it again, our trip through Acadia National Park could have been much better, except our guide was a goof, this guide made the tour.  Aside from being one of those people that you just liked immediately, Pete owned a pub in St. John for 35 years, prior to Covid shutting it down.  He then found his real calling in life, as a tour guide to the city he grew up in.  Our walk through the city was two-and-a-half hours, but it was so interesting and informative that it went by in a flash.  Pete gave us names and dates of historical people and occurrences, in those two-and-a-half hours, without ever referring to any notes.  He also told us a few of his old pub jokes, like the time a couple of tough Irish longshoremen came into his pub at nine o’clock in the morning and wanted a drink; Pete told them that they didn’t open until ten; they didn’t move and looked at him rather sternly, he then said, “Would you like to have a drink while you wait?”

Kings Square Pavilion today

Kings Square Pavilion next month

St. John’s history includes a robust shipbuilding industry that attracted many workers, mostly Irish, and at one time made it the third most populous city in Canada, after Montreal and Quebec. St. John’s early history includes many battles between the French and the English, during the 17th century and in the 18th century St. John became a city inhabited by ‘Loyalists’ – those who left America, who were on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War.

Our walk on this beautiful day took us through picturesque Kings Square park, where we were shown a photo of this unique park in the winter.  We knew we were among the last cruise ships to stop here this year, as from this point forward, the weather gets mighty cold and windy.  It is really a great little city, although I just wouldn’t want to spend a winter there.

Hallifax, Nova Scotia (New Scotland) 

Peggy’s Cove

Our last stop on this cruise began with us getting off the ship in the morning and taking a walk on the Halifax waterfront on a picture-perfect day.  They were expecting the temperature to get up to the 70s (a record for this time of year here).  There was not a cloud in the sky, so it was a great day to explore this fascinating city.  Our walk on the boardwalk took us about an hour in a half – lots of tee shirt shops and restaurants.  We had to get back on the ship to meet up with our group so we could get back off the ship for the start our bus tour of Peggy’s Cove and the Titanic Grave Site.

We climbed on the tour bus and found that our guide was very well qualified, as he was raised in this city, worked in this city’s school district and retired in this city to a job of being a tour guide.  Our bus was going to take us to Peggy’s Cove, which was about an hour drive, but our tour guide filled that hour with many facts about the history of the British and the French fighting over this area, as well as the growth of industries based on beaver skins and lobsters.  Our guide told us the story of when he was a junior high school principal and his effort to help better prepare his students-athletes, who all thought they were going to play professional hockey.  He would ask them to make sure they had a Plan B.  When he asked seventh-grader, Sydney Crosby what his Plan B was, Crosby said, “Endorsements!”  Today, Crosby has been one of the premier players in the NHL and has plenty of endorsements – so ‘check’ for both Plan A and Plan B.

Our guide then related several stories about 9/11 and how airlines headed to the US from Europe at the time, were diverted to Nova Scotia, where local families took in the passengers for several days, until flights were once again allowed to enter the U.S.  He said that many of those airline guests still stay in touch with their Nova Scotia host family.

We arrived at Peggy’s Cove (there’s two stories about who Peggy was and why this is her cove, Google it if you care), which is a beautiful, rocky peninsula with one of those classic red and white light houses at the end – it is a spectacular day!  After exploring the area, there is a restaurant there where I decided I could get my full lobster lunch.  We wait in line to be seated and before she seats us we tell the hostess we have about 30 minutes before we have to get back on the bus, and if that’s enough time to have the lobster lunch?  She says that’s not enough time to cook and serve you a lobster – of course!!!

Titanic gravesite

Our final stop of the day was at the cemetery where 121 victims of the Titanic were buried in 1912.  Our guide walked us through the cemetery and pointed out gavesites, and had several stories about a number of the Titanic victims and their families.  Some of the victims are still unknown and thus the gravestones are marked only by a number, which was the number that the rescuers assigned to each body as they found them.

We learned about the booming lobster trade here, how expensive it is to get into the business, how limited the lobster licenses are – everything except actually getting to eat a lobster.


Lobster Update: This was our last stop and I’ve gone ‘lobster-less’ at every port!!!!

Bye Bye!!!








Next Monday: Cruise Epilogue and a Photo Finish (Finally!)



The Emerald Princess and Bar Harbor, Maine

by Bob Sparrow 


Emerald Princess – before we jump on a shore boat and head into Bar Harbor, I should probably tell you a little about the ship we’re on.  As I mentioned previously, the food on previous Princess cruises, in my opinion, was average at best.  Perhaps I was a bit harsh,  as we had dinner at the ship’s steakhouse, the Crown Grill, and it was excellent. So, I’d probably move the food a grade up, from a C to a B+.  The entertainment, which has been pretty good on previous Princess cruises, has dropped down a notch and in some cases more than a notch; like the big musical production, Magic To Do, a combination of a magic show and a Broadway musical, which failed at both.  There was a comedian who wasn’t very funny and a big soul music production with only one person of color.  Fortunately, there are plenty of bars on board and they do make great cocktails!  I will say that the staff of 1,200 was very efficient and friendly.  There were just under 3,000 passengers on board and as you might suspect, at this time of year, no kids and mostly older couples; the men’s hair is either gray or gone.  Going by ourselves afforded us the opportunity to meet other people at dinner at a ‘shared table’, so we would typically eat dinner with three other couples.  A few we wish we had never met, so we eat rather quickly and excuse ourselves, but most, who came mostly from the Eastern seaboard, were fun and interesting to talk with.

Bar Harbor, Maine – Bahh Hahhbahh, as it is affectionately called, is a cute little tourist town with lots of t-shirt shops and lots of bars and restaurants featuring lots of lobstahhs.  Let me get this out of my head and then we can move on.  I saw this on a tee shirt in one of the shops: “Khakis in the rest of the country are brown pants, in New England they are what you use to stahht your cahh”.    

Ivy Manor Inn, Bar Harbor

We have a bus tour scheduled for 1:00 in the afternoon, so we had time to shuttle in from the boat, poke around in some shops, wander past the picturesque and golden leaf-covered Ivy Manor Inn, but mostly have some lobster for lunch.  I figured I had plenty of future opportunities to have a full lobster, so when I saw a lobster roll, which I had never had, I order one.  Our server said they made some of the best lobster rolls on the planet (of course they said that, but did they really?) Having never had one, I obviously couldn’t compare it, but I can tell you it was heavenly!  I was really delighted with my choice, until I saw the couple next to us who each ordered a full lobster – which were about a foot long and looked delicious!  Our lobster roll cost $30, the full lobster that each of the couple next to us was feasting on cost $32!!!!  Back home that lobster would have cost over $100!!  I was certain I would be eating a lobster just like that one, in one of our next two stops.

View of islands and our boat from Cadillac Mt.

Our afternoon bus tour was to Acadia National Park; where the trees were not all resplendent in their fall colors yet, but some of them were.  This park, as is Bar Habor, surprisingly, is on an island, Mount Desert Island, and has everything from heavy woodlands to rocky beaches to glacier-scoured granite peaks, such as Cadillac Mountain, which our tour took us to the top of.  It is the highest point on the U.S.’s East Coast at 1,527 feet – a mole hill in California terms!  We were told that moose and bear run the woodlands and whales abound in the ocean, but the only thing we saw was a squirrel.  The park would have been beautiful if the plants and flowers that were now brown and dead were in full bloom.  Making things worse was our bus driver/guide.  As I’ve said before, the guide can make or break a trip – this one broke it!  It would have been fine if he just pointed out the points of interest, but he tried to be funny . . . and wasn’t – he could never get a job as a Boston Hop-On, Hop-Off driver!  But, it’s still a beautiful park which afforded us some spectacular views of the oceans and surrounding islands.

Off the bus back in Bar Harbor, we happened to pass Paddy’s Irish Pub on our way back to where we caught the shuttle boat, so, of course, we had to stop.  We had a bowl of clam chowder soup and a local beer and were told that we were in the Irish pub in the U.S. that was the closest, geographically, to Ireland.  It made everything taste just a wee bit better!

Lobster Update: OK, I didn’t have a full lobster here, but I checked the lobster roll box, and there’s still time, as they have excellent lobster in our next two ports.


Next Post – Thursday: Oh Canada! – St. John, New Brunswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia


Newport, RI & Boston

by Bob Sparrow

Marble House interior

Newport, RI – Our first port of call is Newport, and I have to say, I really didn’t know what to expect; I knew about Newport Beach, but not much about Newport, Rhode Island.  To fully understand the part of Newport we will be visiting, it helps to have an understanding of ‘The Gilded Age’ (roughly 1870s-1890s) when it was fashionable for high society of New York to get out of the hot city and show off their wealth by building an ostentatious  ‘second home’ in Newport, these second homes were called ‘cottages’ because their homes in New York took up a full city block!!  So, we opted for the ‘Newport Mansions Tour’ – it was fantastic!!!  We first visited the ‘Marble House’, built by William and Alva Vanderbilt in 1892.  It was called the Marble House because it contained 500,000 cubic feet of marble.  It had 50 rooms in the 125,000 square feet of the home and cost $11 million to build – that’s about $350 million in today’s dollars!  Its four acres sit right on the Newport coast and was used only about four to six weeks during the entire year!  Our tour took us through the entire house and grounds – we thought we had seen spectacular homes on the ‘left coast’ Newport, by comparison, those ARE cottages!  But, after visiting the Marble House, apparently I hadn’t seen anything yet!

The Breakers

Our next stop was ‘The Breakers’, so called because it sat right on the coast where the waves were constantly breaking.  It was just a short drive up the coast from the Marble House.  This home was built by William’s brother, Cornelius Vanderbilt, partly in an effort to ‘out do’ his brother’s place, which it does!  The Breakers has 136,000 gross square feet, where the five-story, 70-room house sits on 14 acres right on the cliffs overlooking Easton Bay.  The dining room alone is 2,400 square feet!    It was the largest, most opulent house in the Newport area upon its completion in 1895.  Truely mind-boggling to tour!

On the way back to the ship, our bus took us through the quaint little downtown of Newport and our guide relateed lots of interesting stories about life amongst the rich and . . .richer.  This was, and still is, an incredible place.

Margaritaville in Fanieul Hall closed!!! RIP Jimmy!

Boston – Our next port was the fabulous city of Boston, where we got off the ship and onto a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, where our bus driver could have just come off the set of Saturday Night Live – she was hilarious!  Our plan was to hit a few spots on the bus route, get off and walk part of the Freedom Trail, hop back on and see what else interested us.  We stayed on the bus longer than usual so we could hear more of the bus driver’s routine.  Apparently, everyone else had the same idea, after we made 8-10 stops and nobody got off the bus, the bus driver comes on the P.A. system and says, “Maybe you guys don’t understand the concept here, this is a hop on hop off bus, but nobody is hopping off!!!”.  Aside from the bus driver’s routine, the highlights along the way included, the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Cheers, the famous TV show’s bar, Chinatown and lots of other attractions humorously described by our bus driver.  We got off at Boston Common and walked a bit of the Freedom Trail, discovered the Bean Town Pub, where we had to try the clam chowder (DELICIOUS!) and a Sam Adams beer (also pretty good!), then continued down to Faneuil Hall – a great indoor-outdoor marketplace.  We got back on the next bus and found that our new bus driver had a better sense of humor than our first one.  Where do they get these guys?!!  A very fun and funny journey through Bean Town.  Once back on the ship we talked to various shipmates about what they did in the city and realized we missed two interesting sites: 1) Fenway Park, home to baseball’s Boston Red Sox; it is the oldest ballpark in all of major league baseball, built in 1912.  Tours of this venerable ballpark take you into the old locker rooms, rooftop seating and up-close views of the ‘Green Monster’ (the left field wall).  2) The other tour we missed, but should have done, was a reenactment of the Boston Tea party where visitors got to witness a fully-dressed reenactment of the tea party and even got to throw a box of tea overboard.  At dinner back on the boat we shared a table with two couples from England who had attended the Tea Party reinactment and said they enjoyed it, but of course, were looking at it from an entirely different perspective than we Americans do.  Interesting!!

Lobster Update: Too busy to have lobster for lunch, and our dinner is back on the boat, but we’ve still got three more ‘Lobster Stops’ ahead of us.  Besides, isn’t Maine the state really known for Maine lobster?

Next post, Monday: The Emerald Princess & Bar Harbor, Maine