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DINE AND DASH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The outside of Pete’s, minus the waiting line

It’s long been said that the best restaurants are to be found in funky neighborhoods or strip malls.  Generally, I’ve found that to be true and we tested that theory on our return trip home from the Central Coast.  As it happens, our kids were vacationing at the beach in Oxnard so we made a plan to meet in Ventura for brunch.   I picked Ventura because it was a straight shot for us to get back on the freeway.  The older we get the more important that becomes – we get lost easily these days.  I have never been to Ventura but assumed they certainly would have a good place for us to meet so I consulted my expert friend, Yelp.  Yelp has been pretty reliable over the years – if enough people have given a place of business 4-5 stars then it has usually proven to be true.  (On the other hand, if it only has 2-3 you can bet the reviewers are related to the owner).  Sure enough, the #1 restaurant in Ventura is Pete’s Breakfast House.  And, since we were traveling with Dash the Wonder Dog it was a bonus that they allow dogs on the patio. Perfect!  Plus, their website indicated they had been featured on Food Network’s hit show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri back in 2012 .  I’ve never known Guy to pick a bad dive.  And I think Pete’s qualifies as a dive since it is right across the street from a tattoo parlor.  Okay…maybe not the highest end of town but then again, that bodes well for the food.

 

Dash getting served royally

Sure enough, we arrived at Pete’s and I was just slightly concerned with the neighborhood.  Not bad enough that I didn’t want to get out of the car, but enough so that I locked the doors while my husband went in to check the place out.  Once he got our table we ventured onto the patio, only to be met by a waitress who fell in love with Dash and immediately brought him a big bowl of water.  So far…five stars for liking my dog.  Once the family arrived and we perused the menu we mentioned to the server that one of our party has a dairy allergy and wondered if their bread had egg in it.  She not only went in to check with the cook but actually brought out a loaf of the bread so we could read the ingredient label.  Once our food arrived we learned why Pete’s is the #1 spot.  Not only was the food terrific but the portions were huge.  We all had different dishes – pancakes, omelets, French toast, breakfast burritos, avocado toast – and all of them were fabulous.  I decided to go with Pete’s signature dish, the Pancake Roll.

The gargantuan Pancake Roll

The Pancake Roll, as the menu warns, is a HUGE pancake filled with yogurt, and then topped with berries and home made granola.  When our server first brought it out I thought it was something for the whole table.  Even I, who eat pancakes almost every Sunday, could only eat one third of it.  But boy, that one third was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  When my husband went inside to pay the check he spoke with the owner about our great service and excellent food.  The owner’s reaction was one of gratitude and pleasure that we enjoyed it, even though I’m sure he must get that same compliment dozens of times a day.  Maybe his gracious attitude is why they are so successful.  In fact, when we left, there was a long line out the front door at 11 on a Monday morning.  I learned that is pretty typical.

In any event, if you’re ever within a 50 mile radius of Ventura I highly recommend Pete’s Breakfast House.  And, for that matter, so does Dash.

Some Parting Shots

by Bob Sparrow

While I’m still trying to adjust to my time zone, work the kinks out of my back, which was greeted by a physician’s scalpel upon my return, I’m not traveling too far from my house.  But knowing that you’re waiting for some kind of adventure, I’m giving you some photos, and salient comments, from the recent trip that didn’t make the cut for previous blogs.  For your review:

In the town of Marinella, prior to cast off, I ordered a large cup of Italian coffee.

I’m sure this was a very public toilet in the city of Pompeii

 

After seeing the lighting in the ship’s dining room, the Sagers decided to add it to the dining room in their house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our ship driving in the fast lane

Photo of Chuck just prior to getting thrown out of the cooking class for drinking

 

Just before I opted out of the sponge diving event in Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Death Stairs’ to THE WALL in Dubrovnik

We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t make ice cream like the Italians!

Jack & Chuck on a romantic gondola ride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love to travel, love to get home!

COPENHAGEN IN CALIFORNIA?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

While my brother was taking you on his magnificent cruise we were spending some time over on the Central Coast of California, as we do most summers.  This week we decided to venture down to Solvang, the quaint little town that is known for its Danish heritage and bakeries.  Bakeries?  Shoot, I’ve never been known to turn down a good bakery visit.

“Solvang” is a Danish word meaning “sunny field”, a distinction that will become important in a moment.  The town was founded in 1911 on about 9,000 acres by a group of Danish-American educators who traveled west to establish a Danish community far from the midwestern winters.  So, unlike the rest of the Scandahoovians who stayed up in Minnesota, the Danes sought out sunny fields.  The Swedes and the Norwegians can argue all day about who is smarter but I think we can all agree that the Danes take the pastry on this one.

Obviously the Danes were not the first to discover this beautiful area.  The original settlers were the Chumash tribe, whose members still live there today and, among other things, run one of the most successful casinos in California.  Solvang was also home to one of the original California missions, Santa Ines, which was built in 1804 and stood until an earthquake in 1812 destroyed much of the mission and the bell tower.  Over the years it was rebuilt and today is an important tourist attraction.

In 1914 the Danes established a “folk” school in Solvang, one of the few that existed in the US at the time.  The curriculum was designed to teach Danish-speaking students in their late teens how to lead more meaningful lives with an emphasis on lectures, singing, gymnastics, fellowship and folk dancing.  Sounds like a lot more fun than calculus and 4th year Latin.  But with the onset of WWI, Danish immigration to the US dropped and it became harder to support a Danish-speaking school.  In 1921 the building was sold to the Lutheran church and continued to host a wide variety of community functions until its demolition in 1970.

Solvang is now primarily a tourist destination – a million of them visit the town every year.  I think most of them were there the same week we were.  I heard accents from every part of the world and huge bus tours blighted the view of the picturesque buildings.  Most people come to Solvang to see what is advertised as an authentic Danish village reproduced in California – a miniaturized version of the Little Mermaid, a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and four windmills dot the main road through town.  Most of the businesses and homes in town are inspired by the Danish half-timbered architecture, which is what makes it such a unique attraction.  The center of town also features a Christmas shop and when we visited the outside of it was a mash-up of Christmas and the 4th of July.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Solvang also garnered much attention after the movie “Sideways” was released.  Many of the critical scenes were filmed in Solvang, including those at the Hitching Post restaurant which is just three miles outside of town.  The movie bought unprecedented interest to Solvang and the wines that are produced in the region.  Seriously, can you even look at a bottle of merlot and not think of “Sideways”?

But of course, I wasn’t there for the wine…I was there for the bakeries!  I sat outside Mortensen’s Bakery with Dash the Wonder Dog while my husband went to buy us one pastry to share.  After all, even Solvang isn’t worth totally blowing my diet.  A few minutes later out he came out with two HUGE chocolate-almond pastries.  And, well, not wanting to be impolite to the local Danish bakers, we devoured them both.  I don’t know what they do in Denmark to make the pastry so flaky and delicious – I’m sure it has to do with lots of butter or lard or something I just don’t want to know about.

All in all, it was a fun time, somewhat educational and definitely worth the trip.  I think I need to do more research next week and just might accidentally stumble into another chocolate-almond pastry.

Croatia, Slovenia, Venice & Home

by Bob Sparrow

“Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it”      George Bernard Shaw

Dubrovnik from the top of the cable car

I read the above quote with some skepticism – could this ancient city really be more like paradise than say, Bakersfield? But after being totally amazed by Montenegro, I was open to believe anything about this scenic Dalmatian Coast. I became a believer – Dubrovnik is beautiful. We had a tour guide here, but it was not a private tour (as we had become accustom to), rather there were about 18 of us in a ‘Cable Car/Walking Tour’ of the city. It was actually a fairly good walk just to get to the bottom of the cable car, but we managed to get ourselves into a gondola and up to the top of the mountain. The view was spectacular, as we took in the entire walled city of Dubrovnik as well as miles of beautiful coastline both north and south. We took the requisite photos, visited the gift shop and headed back down for a guided tour through the walled city.  After visiting a number of historical sites, we were left on our own to either ‘walk the wall’ or not.  As a group we decided that it was too hot and the wall provided no shade, so each couple went their own way.  The Wall kept calling me – it is the second longest wall in the world (behind China’s), so I decided that I wanted to at least walk a little part of the wall.  I paid 8 Euros and took the steep stairs to the top of the wall.  I decided I’d just walk out to the the part of the wall that was on the coast.  It was spectacular!  I continued around and by the time I was half way around I figured I’d complete the circuit around the entire city.  It was 3.4 miles, which felt like 13.4 on this hot, humid day, but I’m glad I did it . . . although I’m not sure why.  It’s hard to believe that this country just had its ‘War of Independence’ with Serbia in the 90s, yes the 1990s!

Game of Thrones King’s Cove

And yes, this is the location for much of the filming of Game of Thrones.

Dubrovnik, Split and Koper, Slovenia are only a few hours drive apart, but our ship took all night to get between them – I think we took a wrong turn.  In Split we took a golf cart tour of the city and surroundings, finding it to be a hip city with great beaches.  Koper, Slovenia, the home of our first lady, is another smaller, ancient city with old buildings that, at this point, we probably had our fill.

Our next and final stop on the cruise was due west across the Adriatic Sea to Venice.  We had arranged another walking tour of the city, where we had a very knowledgeable guide describing the many aspects of the city as we wound our way through the narrow cobblestone sidewalks.  The tour ended with a gondola ride and afterwards we found a great restaurant and enjoy a true Italian lunch of some of the best pasta we’d ever tasted along with a nice glass of Chianti.

Smile String Quartet

Meanwhile back on the ship: The best entertainment on board , in my opinion, was a group called Smile String Quarteta group of attractive Ukraine women who played violin, viola and cello.

Our travels home provided the longest 4th of July I’ve ever experienced.  We disembarked in Venice at 8:00 a.m. on July 4th and got to LAX at 8:00 p.m. – on paper it looks like 12 hours, but add the time change and it was a 21 hour trip home.  We were surprised that everyone here seemed very excited to see us – we were greeted with a fireworks welcome.

As those who read our blog know, I love travel; seeing new places and understanding how different people live is always interesting and educational, but I have to admit that one of the great aspects of travel for me is gaining an appreciation for our own country – it is always great to get home.

Thanks to Jack & JJ Budd and Chuck & Linda Sager for being great travel companions and making the trip that much more fun.  Thank you to wife, Linda who mostly puts up with my antics.  And thank YOU for coming along, especially thanks to those who made comments to let me know I didn’t leave you behind.

Get rested up as we have another trip planned with another group at the end of the summer – hope you can join us.

 

Malta, Greece & Ohhhh Montenegro

by Bob Sparrow

Malta

Malta – looks interesting . . . it’s not!

Malta’s history dates back to around 5900 B.C. – don’t worry we’re not going to start there. Because of its location, in the middle of the Mediterranean, it was a strategic island to have control of and was thus taken over in turn by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Aragoneze, French and British. During World War II the Germans wanted to add their name to the list, but despite the Luftwaffe leveling some of the oldest buildings in the world, they were turned back by Allied forces and now Malta remains as an independent country.

In Malta – just shoot me!

I think the day our ship arrived in Malta’s port city of Valletta, all of the above-mentioned nationalities were represented there, plus tourists from four cruise ships – it was wall-to-wall in this walled city. So a 10-minute walk to the ‘lift’ that took us up the walled city’s façade and a walk down the crowded main street filled with tee shirt and trinket shops was all the Malta we wanted to see. I’ll admit that I felt a bit like a shallow tourist, not really appreciating the history or the present culture of this historic country, but it was crowded and hot. I didn’t even stop to have a local beer!

Katakolon, Greece

Katakolon – yes, that’s it – really!

If you were looking to visit a Greek island and have imagined those stark white building stacked along a pristine coastline over azure waters; or if you were looking to stroll amongst the antiquities of ancient Greece’s structures like the Acropolis or Parthenon, don’t go to Katakolon. Its claim to fame is that it was the location of the very first Olympic games. We did not take the 30-minute drive to the original Olympic site, as we assumed most of the athletes had already gone back home. We did wander the main street of town (there was only one), which was about three short blocks long, and were subjected to old Greek men sitting outside their store like carnival barkers, trying to get us to walk in and buy something. The tour of the town was quick and uneventful, but Jack and I did stay long enough to enjoyed a famous Greek Gyro sandwich and a Mythos beer at a beachside café, which was quite good.  But I’m not checking Greece off my bucket list based on this visit.

A Day at Seas

Here’s what I discovered during our ‘Day at Sea’

  • The Budds and Chuck and I nearly flunked out of our ‘Pasta Cooking Class’

    JJ, Jack, Chuck & I just before we got thrown out

  • I couldn’t concentrate during the Zen ‘doodle art’ class
  • Two-piece bathing suits are not necessarily worn by thin, young women
  • After five days on board, I still had difficulty finding the way back to my room
  • Bingo is boring

Kotor, Montenegro

OK, this is more like it! Just getting to the historic, old city of Kotor was spectacular, as it requires the ship to traverse 17 miles of magnificent bay with high mountains on each side creating the ‘Montenegro fjords’. We docked and were greeted by our guide, Rajan (pronounced Ryan).  We wondered, Is he another Alfonzo or another Cammie? The big smile and warm welcome assuaged our fears immediately. We discovered that one of the keys to being a really good guide is to have been born and raised in the area you are guiding in – Rajan was. He was not only personable with a good sense of humor, but could speak intelligently on any subjects, from the politics of the country to cheese varieties in the farmer’s market.

Above Kotor with our ship behind us in port

Our tour had two parts, first a stroll through the fairly small walled city where Rajan pointed out some of the more interesting/historical sites, as he knew our ship was going to be in port until 11:00 p.m. and thus we had time later to explore the city on our own. The second part of the tour was a visit to the olive-producing region of the country, which was about a 45 minute drive from the port. We hopped in our van and headed up the mountains surrounding Kotor’s cove, providing us some amazing views.

When we arrived at the olive orchard, the owner, whose family had owned the business for over six generations, greeted us with a smile and brought us inside an old olive press room and served us a lunch of cheese, prosciutto, tomatoes, bread and, of course, olive oil, but first, a shot of brandy.  Yes, it’s a custom here and we certainly didn’t want to piss off the locals. We learned all about olive growing, pressing and tasting – we now know what ‘Extra Virgin Olive Oil’ means – to my surprise virgins have nothing to do with it!

We returned to Kotor for a stroll through the city as the lights came up allowing this city to show off yet another side of its beauty. Great city + great guide = great experience!

 Travel tip: Skip Malta and Katakolo and go directly from Sicily to Montenegro . . . and don’t play bingo!

Meanwhile back at the ship: A group of about 100 plastic surgeons were having a conference on this cruise and they brought along their ‘significant others’. Since the significant others looked significantly younger than the surgeons, we played a game trying to figure out if the doctors had performed surgery on their wives or just brought their secretaries to the conference.

 

Southern Italy & Sicily

by Bob Sparrow

(Editor’s note: Beautiful photos would not up-load due to limited bandwidth on board, so just use your imagination)

Positano and Pompeii

We anchored off the city of Sorrento and took a tender to shore where we were met by our guide for the day, affable Alfonzo Sorrentino. From that first smile we knew our day was going to be fun – the guide so makes or breaks the tour and he made it in spades! We hiked the steep road away from the dock to our private, 8-passenger van and wound our way through the town of Sorrento heading for picturesque Positano, which literally hangs off the cliffs on the shores of the Mediterranean. We walked the winding path down to the beach that passed by store after store – it was such an exhausting trip that we had to have a beer when we got to the bottom even though it was only 10:00 a.m. Back in the van, Alfonzo had selected a special stop for us at a ‘lemon factory’, where they made everything lemon, from lemon candy to Italy’s famous liqueur, limoncello. Alfonzo gave me a piece of the lemon rind and told me to eat it – surprisingly it was very sweet! We were then taken to a winery at the foothills of Mt. Vesuvius were we had lunch at the winery restaurant, Cantina Del Vesuvio, which was set in the middle of the vineyard – and what a lunch! First bread and olive oil, then bruschetta, then spaghetti with red sauce and then a lemon cake desert, all while tasting 5 different wine selections.  I think all those things were on my diet.

Due to a landslide next to a tunnel on our way to Pompeii, we got stuck in traffic, which caused about an hour delay in our schedule, but Alfonzo knew we were from southern California, so I’m sure he went that way just trying to make us feel at home. Once at Pompeii we hired a guide who promised to show us the whole place in an hour; which she did! I had no idea how big this city was or how many prostitutes worked there . . . not now, but back in the day prior to Mt. Vesuvius burying the city, along with the prostitutes, in ash and pumice in 79 AD. On our way back to Sorrento, Alfonzo asks if we like Frank Sinatra, we asured him we did, so he turned on his music and we all sang along.  We come to find out that Alfonzo’s other job is as an entertainer, where he sings and plays piano in a night club.  So all the way back to the ship he got us all singing Sinatra and Buble songs. A great time provided by a great guide

Catania, Sicily

With that great experience behind us, we were looking forward to our next day’s tour on the island of Sicily – The Godfather Tour.  But we found out that ife has a way of balancing out things, thus our amazing experience with Alfonzo was balanced out by our not so amazing experience with our next guide, Cammie, a young French woman who told us that she normally worked on her computer in the office of Viatour, but was now being asked to lead our tour. We were open to giving her chance, but her low voice with a bad French/English accent couldn’t be heard over the sound of the air conditioning fan, which the van driver, seemingly another neophyte, couldn’t figure out how to control. When she was talking at all, Cammie was basically reading something about the Godfather on her phone and then passing that information along to us. Otherwise it was a ride in the van with long periods of awkward silence followed by more long period of awkward silence. We walked around the beautiful setting in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean in the town of Slovoca where they filmed the movie The Godfather, had lunch in the town of Toarmia and then she made us an offer we couldn’t refuse when she asked if we wanted to go back to the ship early. 

Travel tip: if you want to revisit The Godfather . . . rent the movie.

Meanwhile back on the boat: We enjoyed the fantastic music of the Smile String Quartet, four beautiful Ukrainian women, who were amazing musicians!

 

Finding La Dolce Vita

by Bob Sparrow

A great lunch in the town square in Santa Marinella, Italy

Whoever said getting there is half the fun was on drugs . . . really good drugs. We left the house at 5:15 a.m. Thursday morning and arrived in Italy early Friday morning, around 7:00 a.m; scientifically speaking, Friday was the longest day of the year (the vernal equinox) and this year we had small airplane seats, a crying baby and an uneatable meal that I describe as ‘faux fowl’ to lengthen the already longest day. All this while you sat in the comfort of your home over the weekend sipping Mai Tais and channel surfing from your couch. Hey, I’m not complaining, I signed up for this, but just wanted to let you know what I go through to make sure you’ll have a good time.

We were met by our driver at the airport and traveled about 45 minutes up the road to the Hotel Villa Delle Palme, which was featured in the film, Las Dolce Vita. We spent two nights in the hotel that sits on the Mediterranean coast in the town of Santa Marinella. One afternoon we took the train into the port of Civitavecchia just to walk around and get our first taste of Gelato – no one does ice cream like Italy! We returned to enjoy a dinner at a top-ranked restaurant in our hotel. The next day we had a beautiful lunch in the quaint town square, mostly enjoying the people, who were smiling and accommodating, particularly the owner of the restaurant, who regaled us with stories we could hardly understand, but she told them with such enthusiasm that she had us all laughing as we dipped our French bread in their amazing olive oil and sipped our Chianti.

Villa Delle Palme Hotel

By noon the next day (Sunday) we were boarding the Riviera; it is magnificent. We made sure we got in line to sign up for the upgraded drink package (Just letting you know we’ve got our priorities straight).  We thought maybe we’d been black balled as word may have been passed around in the cruise industry that the ship will lose money on us before they hit their first port.  Our first meal is at Red Ginger, an amazing Asian restaurant – the sea bass is out of this world. After dinner we head to a magic show that, quite honestly, was very amateurish, but the drink package made it forgettable.

I’ll check in on Thursday of this week and keep you updated on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. Yes, it’s a short one this time, but I’m still trying to figure out what day it is and where I am.

Hang in there, it will get better . . . or not.

 

Cruisin’ Around Italy

by Bob Sparrow

Oceania’s Riviera

I’ll be leaving this week to cavort, literally around Italy on Oceania Cruise Line’s Riviera, along with Chuck & Linda Sager, Jack & JJ Budd and wife, Linda . . . and of course you guys, vicariously. We’ll be flying into Rome (You won’t have to endure that part!) a couple of days early and staying at the Hotel Villa Delle Palme which overlooks the Mediterranean and is just a few miles from our port of debarkation, Civitavecchia, where we will start our 11-day cruise.

Before I tell you the ports of call you’ll be visiting, let me give you a short description of our ‘boat’, the Riviera. It has 16 decks with a guest capacity of 1,250, served by a staff of 800. It is elegantly fashioned with interior architecture that features a spectacular spiral staircase (Don’t worry, you can take the elevator).  One of the ship’s specialties is food, and boy do they specialize! Aside from the Grand Dining Room, we will be eating at the Bistro and Jacques, both featuring quintessential French dishes, the Polo Grill, a classic steakhouse, Toscana, featuring traditional Italian cuisine and the popular Red Ginger, featuring contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. These are in addition to the numerous Cafes and Grills spread throughout the ship. Additionally we will be taking a couple of cooking classes offered on board, so I hope you’re hungry. Wow, I just gained four pounds writing about the food! And of course, we’ll be participating in some sort of drink package, so we’ll be needing a whole new wardrobe when we roll home.

Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast

The ship’s first stop is just a short jaunt down the coast to Sorrento on the magnificent Amalfi coast, where we will be taking a side trip to Pompeii, the city that was buried under more than 15 feet of volcanic ash and pumice from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD – it’s certainly taken a while to clean up, I guess the city workers have been on strike for a while. It’s just another short voyage to Catania, Sicily, where there has been recent activity of another volcano, Mt. Etna, we’ll try to avoid the falling pumice. It’s then another short trip to the island of Malta, known for . . . being a small island south of Italy. Not sure what kind of trouble we can find there, but we’ll find some I’m sure. We then motor over to Katakolon, Greece, where they held the very first Olympic Games, we don’t have tickets! We will then have a day at sea, where I’m sure I’ll spend most of my time in the gym or doing laps in the pool . . . OK, maybe I’ll just be sitting by the pool lapping up a cold one.

Bay of Kotor

We will then be heading up the Adriatic Sea with our first stop being Kotor, Montenegro, a picturesque city tucked behind a series of fjords. Like many of the cities we have seen and will be seeing, it is filled with lots of ancient cathedrals and other old stuff.  We will continue up the Adriatic to the country of Croatia, where we’ll visit Dubrovnik and Split, then to Koper, Slovenia and finally into Venice, where we will have two days to check out the canals, St. Mark’s Square and the millions of tourists.

Then, you of course will be spared the long and winding road home, while I must endure delayed flights, transfers, uncomfortable seats, airline food and a heavyset, chatty neighbor telling me all about her trip through Italy. What I don’t do for you guys!

That’s the plan; I’ll give you the real scoop as it happens, or at least a few days after it happens, depending on Internet availability. Hope you enjoy the trip.  Arrivederci.

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.