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THE JOY OF DOING NOTHING

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

With a backyard like this, why leave?

For the past several years we have made the trek to Denver to spend time with family. Denver is beautiful and the snow on the peaks of the Rockies this year is especially spectacular. On past visits we have seen the Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, Boulder, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and the restored Union Station in downtown Denver. We have strolled the cute downtown area of Cherry Creek and scoped out the golf courses down in Castle Pines. In other words, we have seen a lot! So on this trip our goal was to just enjoy family time. A goal, I’m happy to say, that we achieved with much success.

First, we had a lot to celebrate. Our oldest grandchild just graduated from high school, the youngest turned 16 while we were there, and our kids will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary next week. So in great part we just reveled in the joy of being at this point…everyone happy, healthy and enjoying life. Who needs to go anywhere??

           Great times with great kids

Second, the reason we settle into our “happy place” while we’re there is that the backyard of the kids’ house would rival any park of scenic vista we could go visit. Give me Dash the Wonder Dog, a cup of coffee, a good book and life is good when I’m sitting out there. Add some good conversations and I’m as happy as a pig in slop.

Which brings me to what we did do – eat. Denver has tremendous restaurants and we’ve become regulars at some each time we visit. Hillstone is a great place for delicious salads, juicy burgers and fries that will put you off your diet with one whiff. We enjoyed a great dinner at Jing, an elegant Chinese restaurant where one can order the Kobe steak “signature dish”, thinly sliced pieces that you cook yourself over a hot sizzling rock. Kind of a Chinese version of fondue.  Our grandson ordered it and marveled that it was only $35 for an entire platter of premium steak. He mused that it must be so cheap because you have to cook it yourself. When the bill came my husband handed it to me because I was the one with reading glasses. I couldn’t imagine how our bill had climbed so high until I read the details. Unfortunately, that “signature dish” was ordered by the ounce, a little detail that had been overlooked. So…the “good deal” was $105! Our grandson was mortified but we got a good laugh about it.

Our last night out we went to Shanahan’s – founded by former Bronco coach Mike Shanahan. It’s a fun steakhouse and we’ve never been there when both the bar and the dining room weren’t packed. They specialize in steaks but their fish, salads and sides are equally good. The best part? Our son-in-law picked up the tab!

Mostly we spent enjoyable time at home – talking, catching up, watching some playoff games and walking the neighborhood. For five days I was reminded that sometimes the best place to go is the backyard.

An Evening of Fun with the Monday Knights

by Bob Sparrow

Monday Knights doing a ‘sound check’ before their big concert, errr recital

It was about a year ago when three of us guys (Ron Vallandingham, Michael Amoroso and me) decided we’d get together and ‘jam’ – we all played guitar, sort of. Prior to last Saturday’s ‘recital’ we had added a base player (Randy Davis), a drummer (Larry Eiffert), lost one guitar player (Amoroso) and got a better understanding of why bands break up. I call it a recital, rather than a concert because it was more like a child’s first public piano or dance exhibition . . . mostly something only a parent would appreciate. Concerts are done by professionals, and we are technically the opposite of ‘professional’ as we not only didn’t get paid, we bought our audience’s dinner and drinks as a incentive to come and listen to us. But, we’ve maintained our amateur standing, so we have that going for us.   The ‘recital’ was in Randy’s backyard and attended by 70 some-odd people – yes, some were very odd, but all seemed very appreciative.

What kind of band are we? We’re still trying to figure that out ourselves: Part rock – prehistoric rock; part pop – Ma & Pop Kettle; part folk – old folk; mostly a random cacophony of noise with flashes of melodic chords with windows of harmony. While it was no Woodstock, it seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves and feeling the love, but again these were our family and friends and weren’t disposed to criticizing our playing and singing, especially while drinking our wine.

Throughout the evening we pretended to be a real band, telling our audience that this was the last stop on a 13-city tour from Fontana to Stanton (It was the one and only stop); telling them they could buy a ‘Monday Knights’ tee shirt in the gift shop – there was no gift shop, however we were willing to sell the shirts we were wearing, but no offers. And just like a real band, we learned to play over the hum of a chatty audience.

The evening ended with an open mic with drummer, Larry playing disc jockey to karaoke – some really good voices, including son, Jeff, who also designed the band’s logo and shirts.  – you can order one online (No you can’t). Where did you get your name and what’s next for the Monday Knights?  The name came from several places, 1) we all belong to Yorba Linda Country Club’s Monday Night Fantasy Football League, 2) after football season was over we started practicing together on Monday nights, and 3) If we ever get a real gig, it will probably be on a Monday night . . . late. Whenever that next gig is, we’ll have to wait until our bank accounts get replenished, so we can again afford to buy dinner and drinks.  We’ll keep you posted.

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2019)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys from my high school who died in the Vietnam war. After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their home towns – or worse – their families. So this weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict.

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So on my trip to Washington D.C. last month I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”. To refresh my memory I pulled out my high school year books and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see color television. I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50 year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

 

Robert Johnson

Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give  them both something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

 

 

Mike Tandy
Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah, also attended NHS. Mike was very smart and participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He lead by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January, 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed and I thank you for not forgetting.”

 

Allan Nelson
Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July, 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for 16 year-old kids to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day and face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966 was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin
Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team and very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone who knew him. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited. A complete stranger paid tribute to Jim in 2018 on the date of his death.  You can read my post about it here: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111 

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January, 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

 

Jerry Sims

In April, 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS I assumed Jerry was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he nevertheless was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 13, 1968 he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

I found all of the boys from Novato on “The Wall”, each name etched in granite. I thought about all of their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow had been replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album (pictured left), along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without him. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours.

Surfin’ Safari

by Bob Sparrow

Sandra Dee

As a native Californian, I was of course attracted to surfing at an early age. I think it was in 1959 when the first Gidget movie came out – OK, so maybe I wasn’t attracted to surfing as much as I was  attracted to Sandra Dee! I figured if MoonDoggie could get a girl like that by surfing, sign me up. But I was raised in a rural dairy community in northern California where surf is rarely up on the surrounding farms and ranches.  I will say that the iconic 1964 movie, Endless Summer, had some appeal to me as someone who’d been going to school for most of my life – I thought I was starring in the movie, Endless School. Even a move to southern California, or as my northern friends say, ‘the dark side’, didn’t get me interested in surfing, but I did feel closer to Sandra Dee.

Why then am I writing about surfing? Two reasons: 1) it’s only about a 20 minute drive from my house to surfing mecca, Huntington Beach or as it’s know to board riders, ‘Surf City’,  where the National Surfing Championships are held every summer, but more importantly (to me) it’s the home of my favorite restaurant – Duke’s!  2) I thought I would start an educational series on various museums in southern California; although after this trip to the ‘International Surfing Museum’, it may be a series of one, and not very educational at that.

Mid-bite at Duke’s

It was an unusual rainy May morning when I started my safari to Surf City, but those are the kind of days that keep people away from the beach, so I was happy for a little precipitation as I headed to the coast.  Before I hit the museum it was a must to get a burger and beer at Duke’s, which I enjoyed as I watched the surfers and volleyball players warming up for summer. The ‘International Surfing Museum’ is just a short walk from Duke’s down palm-tree-lined Main Street, which is bar & grill after bar & grill after bar & grill, with a Hawaiian-vibe. It wasn’t very crowded on this midday Thursday, but guaranteed it’s wall-to-wall during summer.

The museum is not large; in fact the space was an old doctor’s office and I’m guessing the doctor didn’t have a very large practice. The door was open, so I walked in and was greeted by Judy, the docent, who told me the museum was closed. I had just walked through the open door, saw the lights on and brochures out on a table and said, “It doesn’t look like you’re closed”. She said, ‘Well, we’re open, it’s just that we don’t have an exhibit up now” as she motioned to the adjacent vacant space. She encouraged me to take a look around and check out the surfing posters, the surf boards in the rafters and . . . the surfing posters. She gave me a quick history of surfing, starting with Duke Kahanamoku and continued to regale me with the upcoming surfing events of the summer. I feigned interest for as long as I could and then told her I wanted to get a photo of the Guinness record, largest surfboard in the world, which held 66 people and is hanging on the outside of the building next to their parking lot. It’s gnarly!

I drove home still relishing my burger and beer from Duke’s and having assuaged my guilt of living so close to the ocean and never hanging ten, or even one. But, hey Dude, it was still a bitchin’ day.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was watching “Fosse/Verdon” the other night on TV (well worth viewing) when I spotted something I hadn’t seen in a long time – a cigarette machine.  Until that moment I hadn’t thought about those instruments of death, once so ubiquitous but now almost extinct.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  Clearly the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars was the death knell for them, but seeing one evoked fond memories.  I used to think it was great fun when my dad would give me a quarter to slip into the slot and pull the lever to magically produce his Salem cigarettes.  Of course, back in the ’50’s we had no way of knowing it would eventually lead to his emphysema, but then again, he lived to age 87, most of those years smoking cigarettes and drinking martinis so he had a pretty good – and fun – run.

Seeing something once so prevalent got me to thinking about other items that simply don’t exist any more.  For instance, console TV’s.  I recall getting our first console – maple! – and it taking a prominent position in the family room.  It was considered a piece of furniture, needing to be polished and waxed just like the dining room table.  The picture was always just a bit blurry and we often had to adjust the antenna on the roof, but it beat the green screen we’d had before.  In the late ’60’s my parents splurged and bought a combo console – TV, record player and radio all in one!  In was a behemoth, and I’m sure the sound quality on all three components sucked, but it was a proud possession of my mom until she moved to a retirement home in 2010.  Talk about getting your money’s worth!

 

Although land lines are not yet extinct, they have changed considerably from my teenage years.  Typically they were mounted on a wall or sat on a “telephone table” with a very short cord.  Personal conversations – so critical to any teenager – were impossible.  Where today’s kids beg for a cell phone, my only desire was for my parents to buy a long phone cord.  By exchanging the short cord for the long one I could pick up the phone and take it into my room, close the door, and have all my angst-filled conversations in private.  That said, when we still had the short cord Brother Bob overheard me one day fumbling for a way to turn down a date.  After I hung up, he told me, “Sis, what you say is, ‘I have other plans that night’.  That could mean anything from a date with another guy to washing your hair.”  I have used that line all of my life to gracefully turn down an unwanted event.  So I guess there were advantages to the “family” telephone.  The other advantage is that we didn’t carry it around, ignoring the world around us, or talk on it when we were driving.

 

And while I’m on the subject of phones,  here’s something else you don’t see much anymore – phone booths.  I remember when they were literally on every corner and were an oasis if you needed directions, were running late or simply needed privacy (for those who had short cords).  Kids today don’t realize how easy they have it when they get stuck in traffic on their way to an appointment.  They simply power up the cell phone and call the person to update their status.  We used to frantically search out a phone booth, often times pulling off a freeway in a strange neighborhood or, as I did once, walk a mile to find the nearest phone.  To compound the problem, once you found a phone booth you had to pray that you had the right amount of change in your pocket.  Nothing was worse that placing a call and having the operator (a real live person) tell you to insert 35 cents when all you had was a quarter.  I remember when the phone companies came out with calling cards where you could charge a call to your home phone.  We thought that was the height of technology.  Little did we know that decades later we would be living in a Jetson’s world with a hand-held device that would place calls, display maps, alert us to traffic jams and publicize our outing on social media.

Finally, something not everyone had but we did – a burn barrel.  It was a rusted-out 55 gallon oil drum that was re-purposed into burning leaves in the back yard.  Each fall my dad and his best friend Dick would spend several hours in our yard raking all the leaves into piles.  They would break for lunch and then spend the afternoon shoving all the debris into the burn barrel.  Of course, such strenuous work required a beer so I have wonderful memories of them laughing and burning leaves, almost like two kids playing a fun game.  The smell was wonderful, although God knows what fumes were spewing into the atmosphere.

We’ve certainly made strides over the decades – technology is better, the air is cleaner and we are healthier.  But somehow, given the choice, I’d go back to simpler times, even if I had to have a short cord on the telephone.

 

It’s Vegas Baby!

by Bob Sparrow

Bruno Mars

We all know the city of Las Vegas by several names, ‘Vegas’, ‘Sin City’, ‘Lost Wages’, to name a few, and we know, or hope we know, that ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ – except what I write in my blog.  It is quite a city!  While this desert oasis loves its reputation as a ‘Gambling Mecca’, a few years back it tried to sell itself as a ‘family’ destination, but the only family it attracted was the mafia. Recently, in an effort to look like other large cities in the U.S., it acquired an NHL hockey team, the Knights, and next season will have the NFL’s Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders – an apt place for this team and their irreverent fans.

But the reality is, Las Vegas, which means ‘The Meadows’ is like no other city on the planet, which I just witnessed last weekend. We were there to enjoy our annual golf trip, some great meals (diet starts Monday . . . again), some great friends and a blockbuster Bruno Mars concert.

Although I’ve been there too many times to remember (as well as times I don’t remember), the city never ceases to amaze me, as it might you as you read through these little known, and even less cared about, fact of ‘Sin City’.

  • There are an estimated 1,000 homeless people living beneath Vegas in underground tunnels.
  • In 1980, a Las Vegas hospital had to suspend workers who were betting on when patients would die. One nurse was even accused of murdering a patient so she could

    Celine Dion

    win.

  • It would take 288 years for one person (and a lot of luggage) to spend one night in every hotel room in Las Vegas.
  • Contrary to popular belief (and practice) prostitution in Las Vegas is not legal.  Now you tell me!!!
  • The Las Vegas strip is the brightest place on Earth when looked at from outer space.
  • Biggest game in Vegas, in terms of money per table, not blackjack, not craps, not roulette . . . baccarat. While the average blackjack table brings in around $500,000 each year, a baccarat table brings in an average of $4,000,000 annually.
  • Vegas’ favorite food: Shrimp – over 60,000 pounds of it are consumed . . . every day! That’s higher than the rest of the country combined.
  • Slot machine payout record? A 25-year-old software engineer invested $100 to win a jackpot worth $39,000,000.
  • Top performers: Back in the 70s Liberace made $300,000 a week! Today record holder is Celine Dion, who makes $500,000 per show.
  • There are over 300 weddings per day in Las Vegas, making it the top wedding destination in the US, but second in the world to Istanbul. Istanbul?!!
  • For all its gambling, you can’t buy a Lottery ticket in Las Vegas – it’s illegal.
  • A stack of pancakes and a quickie wedding may both sound like great ideas after a night of partying in Vegas; luckily Denny’s offers this great combo. For $199 you get a wedding officiant, use of Denny’s exquisite marriage chapel, a pancake wedding

    Denny’s Pancake Wedding Cake

    cake along with a Grand Slam breakfast. The pessimist would say that both the wedding and the breakfast could turn to crap by morning.

Hope you learned a little something about Vegas that you can pass along to a friend at lunch today.

Our Cinco de Mayo/Kentucky Derby trip is always fun, not so much because of Las Vegas, but because of the great people that go; I could tell you more about it, but you know, for the most part ‘What happens in Vegas . . .

 

SPARKING JOY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In case you’ve missed it, organizing is a big trend. You can hardly pick up a magazine or scan the internet without bumping into an article about cleaning out and categorizing.  I think we used to call this Spring Cleaning, but of course now that it’s a trend it has a new name and its own hashtag – #sparkjoy.  Marie Kondo, the author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, started the latest movement and is raking in millions with her books and now her Netflix series, “Tidying Up“.  Seriously, Netflix videos on how to discard and organize.   Her practice is based on the Shinto religion theory of treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object.  So many people are participating in the possession version of Match.Com that thousands of thrift shops around the country are bursting with donations of useless crap that should more properly have been disposed of in a garbage bin.  The Goodwill store in Denver increased their monthly intake by over 500,000 pounds, including discarded tee shirts with armpit stains and underwear with spots that should indeed be unmentionable.

I used to revel in a messy desk and my car was a disaster. My home was just clean enough to pass a health inspection.  I was perfectly happy in my messy little corner of the world until we relocated from California to Arizona.  We had to wait 18 months for our house to be built which necessitated putting three-quarters of our worldly goods into storage. At long last, when the moving company delivered the crates, more than half of the furniture didn’t fit, much of the “stuff” was no longer needed or my tastes had totally changed. Thus, my method of discarding was born. I call it the “Move, Store or Discard” method. Each spring I pretend we’re going to move and determine whether I’d pay to move or store an item.  If not, out it goes.  I never thought about writing a book about it.  But then again, this is not the first boat that’s left the harbor without me.  My method has kept me organized for 20 years.  This year I’ve been focusing on our garage and the kitchen.  I bought several baskets from Amazon and sorted my pantry into categories – baking, cereals, canned goods, cleaning products, etc.  As you can see from the photo, just about everything has a place and is easy to find.  A friend stopped by to see what I was doing and after gazing at my handiwork for a moment she slowly turned to me and said, “I think you might be slightly OCD”.  Yup.

Ms. Kondo suggests that if an item doesn’t “spark joy” it should be donated or discarded.  She further says that we should thank the item for the role it’s played in our lives, suggesting that is a way of properly saying goodbye, so that you can recognize the end of your relationship with it and release it without guilt.  Honestly, I have enough trouble recognizing my relationships with people, much less household appliances. Take my rice cooker, for example.  I just donated that last week because I haven’t used it in a few years.  Why in the hell should I thank it?  It was minimally useful to me and has just been lounging in the back of the cabinet for years contributing nothing to the household.  Thank it?  Good riddance is more like it.  I longingly looked at my floor mop and, as hard as I tried, I could not spark joy looking at it.  I don’t even spark joy at the clean floors after I use it.  But there it sits, in its thankless state, perhaps in hope that one day it will receive its due.  It may be waiting a long time.

I tend to agree more with Joshua Becker, the best-selling author on minimalism, who argues that possessions shouldn’t have that much meaning in our lives to begin with.  Yes, he’s a big proponent of de-cluttering, but for the purpose of making your life more joyous.  His bottom line question is whether the possession is helping to fulfill a larger purpose.  So instead of ridding yourself of 17 old shirts, only to go out and buy 17 new ones, now neatly organized by color in your closet, he proposes that we just pare down to what is useful and meaningful to ourselves or others.  It’s a lot to think about.  But it sure beats time spent contemplating your relationship with a rice cooker.

 

Journey to the Valley of Death – Part 2

by Bob Sparrow

The Oasis at Death Valley

It was an auspicious beginning – Death Valley had claimed four people before we even got started, as two couples that had committed to go on this adventure were unable to for various reasons. Strike one.

Undaunted, the Johnsons, Pacellis, Linda and I set out on Thursday morning for Death Valley. Our research had told us that GPSs go crazy in the desert, but little did we know that it was going to start playing tricks on us so soon.  After we stopped for a great lunch at The Mad Greek in Baker, our GPS took us away from the correct route on a 30 minute detour – I was reminded of the German family that got lost out there and was never heard from again. Strike two.

Our group at its lowest

After about an hour and a half drive from Baker we came to our first attraction, Zabriskie Point. For my money, the best single place to see all the colors and rock/sand formations of Death Valley. We then traveled on to Badwater, the lowest place in North America at 282 feet below sea level; once there, you just sort of stand around and ‘be’ at the lowest place in North America. The road from there to our hotel has a nine-mile loop through ‘Artist’s Pallet’, which, at the right time of day and sunlight, shows off the magnificent colors of the rocks and mountains – we apparently were not there at the right time of the day! I was also anticipating seeing beautiful desert flowers following the rains we had this winter, but those rains came too soon, or too late, or they were too much, not sure which, but flowers were not in bloom.

Oasis pool

We checked into the Oasis at Death Valley and as the photo shows, it is truly an oasis. It is a four-diamond resort, where we have booked a casitas, which runs, including ‘resort fees’ about $600/night, but you get a golf cart to drive to go back and forth between the casitas and the hotel. What you don’t get are two sinks in a rather small bathroom, a corkscrew to open the wine we brought and Internet. I personally would take a couple of diamonds away from their rating.

We had dinner at The Last Kind Words Saloon, in ‘town’, Furnace Creek, which is about a mile from our hotel, and like the Oasis, the restaurant looks great, but the paper-thin, expensive steaks and generally bad food was only overshadowed by the poor service from a  “customer’s always wrong” wait staff. After dinner we went back to the hotel and to go up on the top deck to look at the stars, which we’ve been told are magnificent on a dark, desert night. Unfortunately there was a nearly full moon, a cloud cover and a slight rain.

Tamarisk trees – my golf ball is in there somewhere!

The next day, Friday, we played golf at Furnace Creek Golf Course, just a mile away from our hotel.  We thought we’d grab breakfast at the golf course before we teed off. But breakfast is not available at the golf course and the only breakfast available close by was a buffet, which we really didn’t want or have time for, so we grabbed a muffin and a cup of coffee at the General Store and headed to the course. The golf course was in surprisingly good shape; each fairway is lined with rows of Tamarisk trees, in which my ball came to rest on several tee shots (at least it was shady), although the greens were sort of like putting on a gravel driveway.  The weather and company was great and the burger and beer at the end of the round was most enjoyable.

Mark & Kathy looking for ghosts in Rhyolite

Dinner at the Oasis Hotel was OK, Linda didn’t like her Pork Belly – she was referring to her meal! After dinner we again went up to the top deck of the hotel to see the stars.  We ran into a professional photographer who had a laser beam gun to point out many of the constellations. He had a lot to say about almost everything, including Scotty’s Castle, which was the highlight of my previous trip here, but is currently closed for repairs to the road and the castle, due to flash flooding.

Saturday was our exploring day, according to Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael’s schedule, which he kindly put together, but didn’t get to experience. We stopped at Harmony Borax Works – a 120 year old operation that refined the borax (a mineral found in the salt flats of Death Valley which is used in soap/cleaning products) and loaded it on a 20-mule team wagon to haul it 165 miles to the nearest train station in Mojave – a 30-day trip! Our next stop, after about an hour’s drive on the lunar surface, was the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada – a town built on gold prospecting. It is the largest ghost town in the Death Valley area; at its peak had nearly 10,000 people, with 2 churches, 50 saloons, 18 stores, 2 undertakers, 19 lodging houses (which sometimes lodged prostitutes; OK, not sometimes, all the time!), 8 doctors, 2 dentists, a stock exchange and an opera house.

Cocktails at the casitas

We headed back to the hotel and sat by the spring-fed swimming pool and enjoyed a fancy cocktail – at least the price was fancy. As we were running out of places we wanted to eat, we decided to stop by the local taco shop, although these were not your traditional tacos.  The shop was on Indian land owned by the Timbisha-Shoshone tribe and featured ‘Native American Tacos’. They were quite large, a meal unto themselves and fairly tasty. We had tacos and wine as we sat in our casita’s patio on our last beautiful desert night.

I’d give the experience mixed reviews. If you go, wait until Scotty’s Castle is back in operation – sometime in 2020. So Death Valley is not dead to me, but it’s on a resuscitator.

 

Journey to the Valley of Death – Part 1 of 2 (hopefully)

by Bob Sparrow

Manson Family Death Valley Hideout

I’m writing this blog prior to heading to Death Valley with five couples from our ‘hood. I thought it would be important to provide a little history of this unique National Park as well as make sure I tell people where to look should our neighborhood safari not return – it is called Death Valley for a reason!

It actually got its name from a group of pioneers in Utah headed to California in search of gold in 1849. After listening to a guy who ‘thought’ he knew a short cut, but didn’t have a map (or too many living brain cells apparently), a group of pioneers split off from the main party (well, it really wasn’t much of a party) to take this ‘short cut’ to the California gold through what was to become Death Valley. After losing many weeks and members of the group, as they were leaving this valley, one of the pioneers looked back and said, “Goodbye ‘death’ valley.”

Death Valley’s underground city

Aside from the many gold-hungry pioneers that lost their lives taking the shortcut, the ‘valley’ has genuinely earned its macabre moniker. Mother Nature has played a role by taking lives with her cold winter nights with freezing winds, flash floods and of course the distinction of holding the record for the hottest place in the world – 134 degrees.

It is speculated that there is an underground city beneath Death Valley, where many people died digging and living in these subterranean tunnels. As late as 1996 a family of five visiting Death Valley from Germany disappeared, never to be seen again. But that’s not that unusual, there are many stories of people disappearing using their GPS to try and navigate the desert as there are many areas where cell reception is non-existent – it’s sort of like a black hole, the Bermuda Triangle and the Twilight Zone all rolled into one.

Borax Twenty-Mule Team

There’s more, California’s last lynching took place in Death Valley and there are several old mining ghost towns in Death Valley where ghosts still reside. The Armagosa Hotel and Opera House, once a hotel for the Pacific Coast Borax Company is now haunted. Close by, 100 pound rocks move across a dry lakebed by themselves, leaving a trail. Oh yeah and Death Valley was also a place that Charlie Manson’s gang hung out, so it’s got that going for it;

So why are we going to such a god-forsaken place of death? It’s a beautiful, interesting place; the colors of the rocks, sand, mountains and flowers are incredible this time of year; and we are staying in a four-diamond hotel and playing golf – so over the years there has been an effort to remove the ‘Death’ from Death Valley.

But still, if Suzanne’s next blog is about her missing brother, you’ll know where to start looking.

SNAKES IN THE GRASS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Desert blooms…and pollen

 

Spring in Arizona means three things…wildflowers, allergies and snakes.  This past week our winter weather finally came to a close.  After record rainfall and freezing temperatures (including snow!) we can finally break out our sleeveless tops and Bermuda shorts.  Also top of mind is that we should have done more bicep curls and leg squats all winter, but that’s a topic for another day.  With April we find that patios are once again used for wine sipping and lounging.  Sounds great, right?  After all, this glorious weather is what brought us to Arizona to begin with.  But there are a lot of downsides to Spring in the desert.  While I know I won’t get any sympathy from those friends in the Midwest who are still digging out from blizzards and dirty, melting snow, we desert rats have our challenges too.  And it’s more than shoveling sunshine.

 

     The lovely, annoying Palo Verde tree

First, I have to say that the brightly colored flowers and blooming trees so ubiquitous this time of year are one of the true treasures of the Sonoran desert.  Every cactus seems to have it’s own unique flower, each more spectacular than the next.  The Palo Verde trees are a riot of yellow blooms that are gorgeous to view – from INSIDE the house.  Because these lovely works of nature’s bounty bring with them allergies of gargantuan proportions.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t using some sort of nasal spray or allergy tablet.  Even those who have taken dramatic steps to curb allergies can be found with Kleenex stuffed in every pocket and eyes that stream from morning ’til night.  The local Walgreens can barely keep the allergy meds in stock and our noses have begun to look like W.C. Fields on a bad day.  The experts are telling us it will be a bad allergy season because the heavy rainfall has caused an abundance of blooms.  From April until June we venture out of the house at our own risk…there is so much pollen in each tree now that on a windy day it can blow for several blocks.

      The rattlesnake, playing through

My second caution of the season is the annual awakening of the rattlesnakes.  This was brought home to me last week when playing the second hole of our golf course.  There, in the middle of the fairway, we came upon a huge rattlesnake.  Usually they are resting comfortably under bushes or rocks but this guy was in the grass sunning himself, probably critiquing our golf swing.  Our partners, who were looking into the distance and not at the ground, stopped right next to the snake.  As we shouted for them to move the cart, the snake began to coil and hiss.  Never a good sign.  No one was hurt but it was a sure sign that these vipers of the desert are out and we need to be cautious.  Their appearance is good news for the local golf stores as it means that no one with any common sense wanders into the brush to look for a lost ball.  I lost two on Tuesday and as far as I’m concerned the snakes can have them.

Rattlesnakes are scary, that’s for sure.  But Spring also brings our big golf tournaments and another snake in the grass – the Sandbagger.  So between pollen, snakes and cheaters, I’m glad I have some indoor hobbies to keep me occupied.  The good news is the pollen dries up and the winter visitors with their bogus handicaps go away in June.  The bad news? Living here will be equivalent to being in a microwave oven.  You can’t have everything.