On the Road Again – Grand Canyon Part 1

by Bob Sparrow

L>R: Pacelli, Sparrow, Johnson, Nelson

No more tomes about the size and shape of the earth or the volatility of cryptocurrency, OK, at least not for a couple of weeks.  I’m happy to report that we recently left the house in the company of three other neighborhood couples, the Johnsons, the Pacellis and the Nelsons on a road trip to visit that big, huge, OK, it’s a grand canyon in Arizona; hitting a few memorable and not-so-memorable spots along the way.

With an early morning departure and a gourmet breakfast at the ‘Golden Arches’ we headed east and found on the map an off-the-beaten-path place in the Arizona desert to have lunch, the Kirkland Steakhouse & Bar.  It was indeed off-the-beaten-track, but sometimes those are the most interesting places.  Not this time!  We walked into this former ‘house of ill repute’ and found a couple of guys at the bar having a beer and no one behind the bar.  We found a table and sat down; still no one came, except a Camero car club of about 15 people, who poured through the front door.  They immediately went up to the bar and out from the back of the bar came Ma & Pa Kettle, an elderly couple, who were the owners of the place.  We could see that it might be some time before our order was taken much less our food served, so we asked a member of the car club if the wait was worth it.  A young lady turned to us and said, “I have four words for you, DO NOT EAT HERE!”

So, with stomachs growling, it was off to Prescott (it’s PRESS-kit, don’t call me Pres-COTT) for lunch.  Prescott was once the capital of the Arizona Territory, until people kept mispronouncing its name, so they moved it to a place people couldn’t spell – Feenicks.  The Prescott town square was busier that Disneyland on the 4th of July – people were clearly tired of their house arrest and were breaking out!  This was a trend that we would encounter throughout our trip.

Worth a stop on your way from Prescott to Sedona is the ‘ghost town’ of Jerome, where in the 1890 they were mining for copper and found gold.  At its height there was a population of between 10,000 and 15,000, today around 400-500, but there’s making up for it with the number of tourists roaming the streets.  We strolled the main street (there’s only one) and found plenty of tee shirts and coffee mugs for sale – another trend we found repeated throughout the trip.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

After a good night’s rest in Sedona, the day was spent exploring the many facets of this mystic town.  They’ve made seeing the beauty of Sedona easy – you can hike, bike, car, Jeep, train or helicopter to visit the ‘red rocks’, that’s aside from walking the main street and finding lots of coffee mugs and tee shirts.  We opted for a hike with great views of the ‘Bell Rock’, the ‘Courthouse’ and ‘Snoopy’ – red rock formations resembling those items.  We then took a kidney-jarring Pink Jeep ride to some other red rocks –I wouldn’t recommend our particular tour, although I did find out later that we’d scheduled the ‘senior citizen’ tour, so it was a little less adventurous than most.

One of the highlights of the day was a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is carved out of a mountain and features a 90 foot iron cross and a spectacular view of the entire valley.  I lit two candles in the chapel, one was in memory of our recently passed good friend and neighbor, Patrick Michael and the second as a thank you for continued good health of all cancer survivors.

 

Next: Part 2 – on Thursday.  The Mystic Side of Sedona and on to the Canyon

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2021)

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 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 6, 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.

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow 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.

LESSON #1: DON’T BE A JERK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life. We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t.  Robert Fulghum

You may remember Robert Fulghum as the author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“.   In 1988 he published that best-selling book in which he outlined many of the lessons we learned as young children – share everything, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours – and he beseeched us to apply those principles to our adult lives.  Among the most salient points he made was: “When you go out into the world watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”

I was drawn back to Reverend Fulghum’s book this past week for two reasons.  First, I am reading The Rise and Fall of 9/11, written in 2019 by Mitchell Zuckoff, a former Boston Globe reporter.  The book is an in-depth account of the people and events of that horrible day.  At times it has been painful to read, learning about everyday people in the air and on the ground, knowing what their ultimate fate would be.  But it has also been inspiring, a good reminder that people are generous and giving; there are plenty of people who look out for their fellow man, even to the detriment of their own well-being.  Reading about so many selfless acts reminded me of Fulghums’ advice – there were many examples that day of “holding hands and sticking together“.

Much has changed in the ensuing twenty years.  Technology has changed our lives for the better, and occasionally, for the worse.  The tech boom has altered almost everything we do, and in the process has created a super-wealthy class, rich beyond what any previous generation could dream of, much less achieve.  Unfortunately, for some, their wealth brings with it a sense of entitlement.  Which brings me to the second reason I pulled out Robert Fulghum’s book this week.

Each year since the mid-1980’s my husband and I have visited Sun Valley, Idaho.  We love it for it’s beauty, but also because of it’s “laid back”, mountain town vibe.  Although the city was founded by a wealthy man (Averell Harriman) and has historically attracted movie stars and business titans, it has still maintained a low-key, respectful culture.  So I was distressed this past week to read an article in the local Sun Valley paper about changes to the friendly ethos.

Like many rural areas, Sun Valley saw a significant rise in population as a result of the COVID pandemic.  In fact, real estate sales hit an all-time high last year, with prices increasing as much as 52% in some neighborhoods.  Most of the new residents and visitors are coming from Seattle and Southern California and, unfortunately, they have not taken the time to learn about the town and how its citizens are expected to behave.  City leaders said the growth has fostered some negative changes: trash and dog waste left on trails, aggressive driving, speeding cyclists who don’t yield to others and rude treatment of restaurant workers.  The owner of one local eatery decided to close on Saturdays because of weekend customers’ poor treatment of staff.

The city council is now pondering a new marketing campaign to “school” new residents and visitors alike on the expected norms of this peaceful little valley.   The current proposal is, “Don’t change Sun Valley. Let Sun Valley change you.”  I think that’s a fine start, but maybe the city leaders should consider distributing copies of Rev. Fulghum’s book as people enter town.  It would appear that a lot of people have forgotten what they learned in kindergarten.

Got Bitcoin?

by Bob Sparrow

The simple Bitcoin

There was clearly a lack of enthusiasm from our readers on my Earth Day blog (it was our lowest weekly readership statistics since we officially changed the format from ‘Morning News in Verse’ to ‘From a Bird’s Eye View’ back in March 2012!).  On a bar graph, that week’s readership statistics looked like ‘Death Valley’ next to the ‘Mt. Whitney’ of previous blogs.  And while May is, in fact, the month with the most random ‘Days’ in it, National Take a Baby to Lunch Day and National Poem on Your Pillow Day, to name just a couple of the ‘biggies’, it has become abundantly clear to me that our audience is much more sophisticated than recognizing such random days.

So, this week’s blog subject is something much more arcane than those aforementioned meaningless milestones; this week I will attempt to clear up a subject that I’m sure is ‘top of mind’ for most of you . . . Bitcoin. Actually, I’ll be discussing cryptocurrency in general, but Bitcoin is to cryptocurrency what Kleenex is to bathroom tissue – the latter is just easier to flush down the toilet.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last decade, you’ve probably heard about Bitcoin.  But like me, you also probably quickly filed it wherever Deferred Variable Annuities are filed.  But, rest assured, your kid’s kids will use nothing but cryptocurrency, even though they still won’t understand deferred variable annuities.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea!”

Forget about explaining what Bitcoin is, you’ll never really understand that, let’s start with its advantages over today’s currency.  Today the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency, so a collapse of the U.S. dollar would create global economic turmoil.  Investors would rush to other currencies (Monopoly money?), interest rates would rise and U.S. import prices would skyrocket, causing significant inflation.  So, the value of the U.S. dollar is significant, not just to us, but to the rest of the world.  Suffice it to say, the rest of the world isn’t too excited about their dependence on our currency.  Is this starting to remind you of the Earth Day blog?  Oh, that’s right, you didn’t read it.

Thus, the Bitcoin was born – by some Japanese financial geniuses, probably after a few carafes of Saki.  In a typical financial transaction today, there is a ‘middle man’ – usually a bank (You’re asking, is he really going to tell us about Bitcoin?!!).  Bitcoins eliminate the middle man and provides a currency that can’t be counterfeited, nor can an account be hacked, and is globally accepted, if in fact it’s accepted!  Let’s say you finally get enough money together to buy that Swiss chalet at the base of Mt. Blanc, that you’ve always wanted.  With Bitcoin, if the seller accepted it, you wouldn’t need a bank, nor would you need to figure out an exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the Swiss Francs – you’d just electronically send him some Bitcoin – it may only take two coins!

This is the part that I slept through while writing it, so feel free to skip down.  When you hold Bitcoin, you control it through a private key—a string of randomized numbers and letters that unlocks a virtual vault containing your purchase.  Thus cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, are powered by a technology called the blockchain. OK, that’s it!! Blockchain, Schlockchain, just forget it, I’m filing this one right alongside that Earth Day blog

Blockchain theory

OK, one final word before you doze off, just in case you were ready to go and buy some Bitcoin after reading this.  Bitcoin, like azidoazide azide, which as I’m sure you’re aware, is the world’s most explosive chemical, is extremely volatile.  When Bitcoin began in 2009 a coin was worth about $0.009.  Last month a coin was worth $63,503.  In the four months of this year alone, it has ranged from a low of around $8,000 to a high of around $64,000.  As of this writing the value is $49,077, so caveat emptor, which translates to blockchain, schlockchain!

I’ll bet you’re saying to yourself that you wished you’d read that Earth Day blog so as not to have inspired me to write about something even less interesting.  Fear not, next week: Deferred Variable Annuities.  Not!  I’m actually on my first road trip in a year and a half this week, so perhaps my next blog about my travels will be more in my wheelhouse and more interesting . . . or not!

My apologizes, I know that these were several minutes that you’ll never get back!

 

CHEERS TO 80 YEARS!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

This week marks a milestone birthday for my husband – 80!  He’s in pretty good shape – still able to play golf, walk the dog and shout at the TV while watching hockey.  I’ve been thinking about his birthday a lot this month, mostly because he is impossible to shop for since he has very particular taste and, let’s face it, at 80 years old he already has everything he needs.  The other reason I’ve been thinking about his big day is I marvel at the longevity of his family.  As many of our subscribers know, my husband, his parents and his older brother we interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for about four years during WWII.  Suffice it to say that food and medical care were in short supply.  Yet his father lived to 90, his mother to 96 and his brother is still going strong.  You would think that their experience would shorten their lives, but obviously they have some tough genes in the Watson tribe.

Our great, great grandmother who died at age 87 in 1925

My side of the family has also lived long lives. In fact, when I researched our genealogy I discovered that the women on our mother’s side of the ledger have lived way beyond the average lifespan of their time for hundreds of years.  The furthest back I can go is 13th century England, when our 20th great-grandmother, Sybella deLea, lived to be 65! Our dad’s side isn’t so fortunate but even he lived to be 87 and the only gym he ever came into contact with was Jim Beam, so his long life definitely wasn’t attributable to healthy lifestyle habits.  So I got to wondering…why do some people live longer? The answer wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected.  First, it’s good to know that after a small decline in the mid 2010’s, the average lifespan in the U.S. increased over the past couple of years and is now 78.93.  Eighty years ago the average was 62.81 which, among other things, is why our Social Security system is on the brink of bankruptcy – we’re all living a lot longer.  The increase can be attributed to a number of factors – vaccinations and antibiotics greatly reduced deaths in childhood, workplace safeguards improved work-related injuries and illness, and finally, smoking went out of fashion, almost to the point of extinction today.

Happy men in Sardinia

But since those improvements tended to benefit industrialized populations equally, why are some people and indeed, whole families, living longer than others?  Researchers estimate that about 25% of the variation in lifespan is due to genetics, but which genes, and how they contribute to longevity, is not well understood.  Most of our ability to live to an old age is due to lifestyle habits –  a healthy weight, a good diet and none of the vices (cigarettes, alcohol and drugs).  So, in other words, you may live to a ripe old age but be prepared to be bored as hell.  Scientists are studying a handful of communities in parts of the world where people often live into their nineties and older—Okinawa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece), and Sardinia (Italy). These three regions are similar in that they are relatively isolated from the broader population in their countries, are lower income, have little industrialization, and tend to follow a traditional (non-Western) lifestyle. Unlike other populations of the very old, the centenarians on Sardinia include a significant proportion of men. Researchers are studying whether hormones, sex-specific genes, or other factors may contribute to longer lives among men on the island.  I’m thinking it has more to do with limited exposure to the internet but that’s just my theory.

In a study published by the NIH, scientists in the United States noted that long-lived individuals have little in common with one another in education, income, or profession. What they do share are common healthy lifestyle habits.  Jeez – there is just no getting away from people advising us to diet and exercise.  But here is the great part for those of us who had long-lived ancestors:  these same scientists concluded that if you get to be age 70 without major health issues, and you have a family history of longevity, you are likely to live a very long life.  What I’m taking away from this research is if you get to 80 you can begin to smoke, drink and loaf because you’ve already outlived the averages and deserve that big piece of chocolate cake.  So…happy big birthday to my husband – the odds are he’s going to be around for many more years!

 

Did You Miss Earth Day?

by Bob Sparrow

If you’re not sure, you probably did!  It was two Thursdays ago, April 22nd.  With everything else going on in our world today, don’t beat yourself up if you missed it.  But in an effort to ‘keep you informed’, as we here at From a Bird’s Eye View, are committed to doing, I’ll provide you with a brief history of celebrating the day we honor our planet (hang in there, it will get more interesting . . . maybe!).  Inspired by students in the anti-war movement, former Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson and others helped to organize the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.  It inspired about 20 million Americans to come out and demonstrate against the impacts of industrial development on our environment. OK, brief enough.

If you forgot to celebrate, worry not; you’ve probably already been doing your part by staying home this past year and thus lowering your total carbon emissions. Good for you!

While listening to the Darren Hardy’s ‘Darren Daily’ episode on Earth Day, I learned a few interesting facts about our ‘Mother Earth’ and thought I’d share them with you.

What’s in a name?  How did we get the name ‘Earth’?  While all the other planets are named after Greek or Roman gods, we get our name from both English and German words, ‘ertha’ and erde’ which means ‘ground’.  Pretty sexy, huh?

Flat Earth

Earth flat?  We all know that the earth isn’t flat, right?  Ok, there is the ‘Flat Earth Society’ that believes evidence to the contrary is fabricated by NASA and those ‘Round Earth Conspiracy’ theorists.  But the earth is not round either, it’s oval, like a squished ball – fatter at the equator.

Who’s tallest? That aforementioned ‘squished ball’ visual, begs the question, what is the tallest mountain in the world?  You’re thinking Everest, right?  But, depending on how you measure, there could be two other answers.  Everest is the tallest, 29,033 ft from sea level, but, if you’re looking for the mountain that is furthest from the earth’s center and thus closest to the moon and stars, it would be a mountain in Ecuador, Mt. Chimborazo – it’s right on the earth’s bulging equator.  However, if you’re measuring from the ocean floor instead of sea level, it’s Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, which measures 33,496 feet from the ocean floor to its summit – told you it would get more interesting!

What?! We’re not the Center of the Universe!  When asked who was the first to discover that the sun, not the earth was the center of our solar system, you’d probably respond with the name of that Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, who published his work in 1543.  But you’d be wrong.  Did you say, Aristarchus of Samos, the Greek astronomer and mathematician, for his discovery around 270 B.C.?  Nope, but he was influenced by the first to proffer the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe, Philolaus, another Greek philosopher who lived around 400 B.C. and was the first credited with originating heliocentrism, the theory that the Earth was not the center of the Universe – much less the center of our solar system.

Mt. Chimborazo

How old is earth? The earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old – don’t ask me who was counting or when earth’s birthday is, but just to put our existence on this planet in perspective, let’s assume that the 4.54 billion years was converted to a 24-hour day.  Homo sapiens (that’s us) would have been on the earth for . . . wait for it . . . 4 seconds!

How fast are we going?  The earth is hurling through space at a speed of 66,000 miles per hour as we travel around the sun.  It is also spinning at a rate of 1,040 miles per hour.  Dizzy yet?  Thanks to a thing called gravity, we don’t fly off into space.

Land & Sea One-third of the earth is desert – the largest desert?  Nope, it’s Antarctica, it gets only about 2 inches of precipitation per year.  Seventy percent of the earth is made up of water, but only 3% of that is fresh water.

Got a light?  Lightning strikes on earth about 100 times . . . per second!  That’s about 8,600,000 per day

Earth’s largest desert – Antarctica

Free Fall: If a large hole was drilled through the center of the earth, it would take about 46 minutes to free fall from one end to the other.  You’d need a pretty good ‘fire-suit’ as temperature in the middle of the earth is about the same temperature as the sun’s surface – 10,000 degrees.

Who Owns the Most Real Estate on Earth?  Not Bezos, not Musk, not Zuckerberg, Not Buffett (Warren or Jimmy), not Gates, not some Saudi prince, but . . . Queen Elizabeth – she is the ‘legal’ owner of 1/6 of the earth’s land surface.

Happy belated Earth Day!  Yeah, we’re too late for this year’s gala celebration of Earth Day, but you’ll be ready to wow them next year!

 

 

WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Those of us who have lived in Arizona for any length of time have noticed a recent trend – there are a LOT of people moving here.  Usually we have an uptick in population from January through April, as “snowbirds” leave the wintry climes of Chicago and Minneapolis to soak up a little sunshine.  In addition to the weather, we offer exotic car auctions, the Phoenix Open golf tournament, Arabian horse shows and Spring Training games.  So, we’re used to snarled traffic and impossible restaurant reservations during those months.  But this year?  Holy smokes…the traffic congestion started last summer and has only gotten worse.  Trips to the grocery store that used to take 10 minutes now take 15, and once we’re in the store, the line at the bakery now snakes all the way back to the vegetable section, which somehow seems just plain wrong.  In our small community we’ve seen firsthand the effect of the influx.  In the first quarter of 2020 we had 9 home sales; this year we had 9 closings just in the month of January, and 38 total for the quarter.

COVID, of course, accounts for much of the movement into Arizona.  First, many of the recent transplants stated that the lockdown caused them to re-assess their priorities and retire earlier than planned.  Second, once people were able to work from home, they concluded that their home could be anywhere, so why live in an expensive, high-tax state?  According to the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Business, more than 60% of the immigrants to Arizona are coming from California, followed closely by Washington and Illinois.  Notice a trend?  Third, our job market is booming, with many Fortune 500 companies relocating here due to our lower tax rates and abundant workforce. As a consequence of the population boom, housing prices in Arizona have already increased 8% in 2021.  Each Sunday the Arizona Republic newspaper publishes the top five homes sales, based on price.  Up until this year, the most expensive home was usually $2-3 million, with the other four somewhere between $1-1.5 million.  Now, the top five are all $4-5 million.  If you buy a million dollar home you are apparently living somewhere near the poverty line.

The downside of all this, other than the traffic, is that it’s become harder for people to buy entry-level homes and next to impossible to find a rental home.  Affordable apartments are also hard to come by now.  Young couples are moving farther and farther away from metro Phoenix, or moving out of state, in order to afford the lifestyle they assumed they would have in Arizona.  And the housing market is not the only commodity benefiting from recent transplants –  expensive cars are selling like hotcakes.  Someone asked me recently if there had been a fire sale on Bentley’s, because they are now ubiquitous.  One of the luxury car dealers noted that people moving from California can sell their home there, buy a bigger one here, and still have plenty left over for a $200,000 car.

So in an effort to slow the population growth, here is my countervailing list for anyone thinking of moving here:

  • Rattlesnakes – they are everywhere and will spring out at you with little notice.  You will go on walks as if you were traipsing through a minefield.
  • Javelina – perhaps the ugliest animal on Earth, they will not only charge you, they will eat every beautiful bloom on your (expensive) cacti.
  • Coyotes – no, not the hockey team, the real thing.  They are sneaky and plan their attacks in groups.  If you have a small dog you will never be able to let them outside alone again.  Owls also fit into this category.  A neighbor just had their Yorkie picked up by an owl and whisked away.
  • Heat – this is the big one.  Don’t believe it when people say it’s a dry heat.  So is my microwave, but you don’t see me living in it.  In 2020, we had 144 days over 100 degrees.  ONE HUNDRED FORTY-FOUR!  Believe me, it can take the starch right out of you…and anything you’re wearing.

I’m waiting with anticipation to see what the “move out” rate is come summer.  My guess is that a lot of people who found our warm weather so charming in January will head back to wherever they came from by July.  Hopefully by August I’ll be able to wait in line for cake without having to stare at the broccoli.

A Gathering of Rare Sparrows

by Bob Sparrow

As Suzanne’s blog last week exemplified, we typically try to comment on things that have broad appeal to our audience – the Masters, Covid, March Madness, St. Patty’s Day, etc.  But with this ugly ‘House Arrest’ still hanging on, we’re left to fend for ourselves at home as best we can.  And ‘best we can’ at our house last week was defined as having Brother Jack and wife, Sharon in from the Central Coast and Sister Suzanne and husband Al in from Arizona, as well as some of our kids and grandkids gathering at our house for . . . well, just for fun and just because we can!

It goes without saying that there was a wee bit of imbibing going on over the last few days, which is to say that I not only had difficulty trying to create an interesting blog, much less coordinating my lest-than-nimble fingers to put word to document.  But I had the wherewithal to take some photos over the weekend, so as any good birdwatcher would do, I’m posting my best photos of these ‘rare birds in action’.

The Mexican Hooded Sparrow

The Irish Imbibing Sparrows

The Shark Fin Watson Sparrow

 

 

 

Young Sparrows leaving nest

 

 

 

The Toasting Camouflage Sparrow

The Parrothead Soaring Sparrow Sisters

The Mush-Beaked Sparrow

 

 

The Rust-Throated Warbling Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If what they say is true, that a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve just provided you with an 8,000-word thesis.  Hope you enjoyed.  I did . . . I think!

 

 

 

 

 

A TRADITION UNLIKE ANY OTHER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

There was some talk a couple of weeks ago about moving The Masters golf tournament out of Georgia.  For those of us familiar with the game and the course, we could only shake our heads at such tomfoolery.  You can’t move The Masters from Augusta, The Masters is Augusta.  Sure, you could move the tournament to Poughkeepsie, but then it would have to be the Pepsi Cola Poughkeepsie Open, or some such thing.  What the “move The Masters” people didn’t understand is that the tournament played at Augusta National each spring is, as Jim Nance dubbed it, “a tradition unlike any other”.  It would be like taking the Boston Marathon out of Boston or the Kentucky Derby out of Churchill Downs.  Sure, you may have an event, but it would lack the prestige and history that we’ve come to love.

I was rooting for Jordan Spieth to win The Masters this year.  I love a good comeback story and from all accounts, he is a really good guy.  Unlike Bryson DeChambeau who, by those same accounts, is a real jerk on and off the course.   Unfortunately Jordan didn’t win, but he had a good showing, and kept it exciting to the end.

No matter who wins, The Masters holds a special place in the heart of every golfer.  It’s all about tradition, and it’s defined by a set of odd rules and customs that just don’t exist outside of Augusta National.  Here are just a few:

  • Food prices are ridiculously cheap.  A cup of coffee, for example, is $1.50.  Starbucks could learn something from those folks at Augusta National.
  • Cows at Augusta!

    During WWII, when manpower was short and the course was closed for the duration, they set 200 cattle loose on the grounds in hopes that they would “trim” the grass by eating it.  The plan was that once the cows were fattened, the club would sell them for a tidy profit, since meat was being rationed.  However, the cows, not realizing where they were, continued to devour azalea and camellia bushes at an alarming rate. Finally, they were sold and, instead of a profit, a loss of $5,000 was recorded in the Augusta business ledger.

  • Caddies must wear white jumpsuits, which make them look like a parking attendant from the 1950’s.
  • TV commentators are required to call the spectators “patrons”.  Man, that is some high class crowd.  Makes me think of frequenting a posh salon or uber-expensive tasting room.  But there must be some truth to it because it is the one tournament where you don’t hear some yahoo screaming, “You ‘da man!” after every tee shot.  Augusta National also forbids patrons from wearing their caps backwards.  In other words, it is the polar opposite of the Phoenix Open.
  • Another tradition is that cell phones are banned.  Instead, there are banks of payphones for “patrons” to use, which means there are very long lines of people waiting to use one.  The millennials must gaze at these “antiques” and wonder how their grandparents posted selfies with them.
  • You can be arrested for selling tickets to The Masters.  A few years ago 24 people were arrested for doing just that.  One must understand, that to be a patron you don’t buy a ticket, you apply for a ticket.
  • In another move that is sure to irritate somebody somewhere, the bunkers at Augusta aren’t filled with sand, they are actually composed of waste product from the mining of aluminum.  The byproduct of the waste is a really white quartz, which sure looks like sand but is much more expensive.
  • Hamilton Tailoring Co. of Cincinnati is the exclusive maker of the green jacket, awarded to every winner.  But don’t even think about trying to order one for yourself… Hamilton Tailoring does not accept orders from the general public.  Even the Master’s winners are forbidden to take the green jacket from Augusta, except for the first year after their win.  Sergio Garcia was so thrilled with his win that he wore his green jacket during his wedding reception.

And finally, not to crush your illusions, but there are no birds allowed at Augusta National.  No one knows quite how they manage to keep the birds out.  Personally, I have visions of Tom Skerrett in “Steel Magnolias”.  In any event, the chirping birds you hear on the telecast is a “sweetener” from the sound people at CBS.

All of this makes for a very special tournament, one I hope to see in person one day.  That is, if I can live up to being a “patron”.

 

A Laughing Matter

by Bob Sparrow

                                      “When you lose your power to laugh, you lose your power to think straight.”                                                                                                                                                                Inherit the Wind

I am not an immunologist or a doctor of any kind, I’m not a health worker of any kind either, and have really done nothing to help get us through this pandemic, except get my shots, which was mostly helping me.  So, I felt worthless in terms of my contribution to society, until I read Karine Bengualid’s article on Copyhackers about the power of laughter during the pandemic; I quote:

‘Humor offers certain emotional and mental benefits, such as establishing relationships, relieving anxiety, releasing anger in a socially acceptable way, decreasing depression and loneliness and increasing self-esteem, as well as physical benefits like increasing pain tolerance, improving respiration and breathing and exercising facial, abdominal and chest muscles, leading to reduced muscle tension.  Humor can undo physical effects of negative emotions like fear, anger or sadness’.

So, as my contribution to this whole ‘thing’ going on, I’m sharing what I think are humorous quotes and cartoons about the pandemic as well as some observations about life today.

  • A teardrop tattoo means you killed someone in prison, a toilet paper tattoo means you killed someone at Costco

 

  • Q: Did you get your two shots?                                                                                 A: Yes                                                                                                                                               Q:  Pfizer or Moderna?                                                                                                        A:  Whiskey & Tequila

Half of us . . .

  • Half of us are going to come out the pandemic as amazing cooks, the other half with a drinking problem. There is no in between
  • Half of us are going to use this time to focus on improving ourselves through meditation and getting into great shape, and half of us will have more ice cream after we finish the pizza and beer
  • Half of our recycling bins will return to normal use and half will still be overflowing with empty wine bottles
  • Regarding our bathroom habits, half will get back to normal and half will continue to horde toilet paper
  • Regarding our morning routine, half will get up, shower and go to work and half will wear a nice jacket and matching underwear to work
  • Half will go back to drinking Corona beer and half will never drink that beverage that caused this awful pandemic

Feeling better yet?

  • My husband purchased a world map and then gave me a dart and said, “Throw this and wherever it lands—that’s where I’m taking you when this pandemic ends.” Turns out, we’re spending two weeks behind the fridge.
  • After years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house but lacking the time, this year I discovered that wasn’t the reason.
  • Every few days try your jeans on just to make sure they fit. Pajamas will have you believe all is well.
  • Being quarantined with a talkative child is like having an insane parrot glued to your shoulder
  • I finished Netflix today
  • Day 121 at home and the dog is looking at me like, “See? This is why I chew the furniture!”
  • 30 days hath September, April, June, and November, all the rest have 31, except for March which was infinite.

I’m putting a drink in every room in my house and calling it a pub crawl

Abort, abort abort! Re-route to 1999 when all we had to worry about was cheesy boy bands!

You know things are different when you work at a bank and two guys with masks come in, but they’re just robbing the place

Hope you got a few chuckles; it’s OK if you didn’t, I’m still going to feel like I contributed something to getting through the pandemic!