By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Ely, NV

Downtown Ely

One of the joys of a long car trip is passing through towns that are barely on the map.  Such was the case on our journey up to Sun Valley, Idaho when we stopped for the night in Ely, Nevada.  Where, you ask?  Ely (pronounced EE-LEE) is smack dab in the middle of nowhere.  It is in the eastern part of the state on State Route 93, exactly 250 miles north of Las Vegas and 250 miles south of Twin Falls, Idaho.  This was not our first stop in Ely…it happens to be just a bit past the mid-point from our home up to Sun Valley so it’s a good place to rest for the night.  “Rest” being a relative term.

The nicest hotel in town is a La Quinta Inn that was built about five years ago.  It is pretty much what you would expect from a La Quinta  – the bare minimum of furniture in the room, cold bagels for breakfast, and people slamming doors at 2 am.  This trip we were delighted by people across the hall who left their baying hound alone in the room for five hours.  There are several casinos in town where, we assumed, the dog’s owners were on a hot streak.

However, as I stated at the beginning, I find a particular joy in going through small towns.  Having grown up in a town where everyone knew everyone else, I find it comforting to know that such places still exist.  A habit I picked up years ago is buying the local newspaper to get a flavor of what life is like in these small burbs.  In Ely, the local paper is called The Ely Times.  Clearly they didn’t spend a lot of time coming up with a catchy name.  On the other hand, I think simplicity is key in Ely.  My brother, Bob, has the same fascination with small town papers and we obviously came to that trait naturally since our parents owned our small town paper, the Novato Advance.  Or The Retreat, as some people took to calling it.

Mom and Dad in front of the Novato Advance

Mom and Dad in front of the Novato Advance

Regardless, the name of this blog is a tribute to a column that our mother wrote each week, “A Bird’s Eye View”, in which she regaled people with stories about local activities.  Her riveting articles chronicled such highlights as  “Mr. and Mrs. Tresch went into San Francisco for lunch on Thursday where they enjoyed a crab salad at Aliotos” or “Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Smith entertained their cousins from Modesto last week”.

So it was with some interest that I opened the Ely Times to see what constituted news in this small town of 4200 people.  Here were some of the major stories:

  • “The City Treasurer has been placed on a 90 day review for insubordination.  The Mayor asked her not to write a check to the Fire Chief, but she ignored his orders, asked the opinion of another council member, and then went ahead and wrote the check anyway.”
  • “Mrs. Zelma Brown died in February but the town will be celebrating her life at a memorial to be held at the Pool Park next Saturday.  Refreshments will be served but seating is limited so bring along a chair for yourself.
  • “The Ruth Mining Days competitions will be held on June 21.  There will be a mill ball toss, rock hammer toss, tire roll and a tug-of-war over mud.  In addition, we will hold the annual Adult Mucking Competition.”

Mucking..or something like that.

Mucking competition???  I thought that was a skill held by scrappy newspaper reporters trying to “get the goods” on corrupt politicians.  But, being the intrepid reporter that I am, I did a little research and discovered this is a very serious competition, conceived to keep old-fashioned mining techniques alive.  There are seven events in the competition: Jackleg  drilling, gold panning, hand mucking, hand steeling, timber sawing, surveying and track stand. Points are assigned in each event and the lowest cumulative score at the end of all seven events is the overall winner.  I guess it’s sort of the decathlon of mining.


I was sorry that we had to miss all of the festivities…I’ve never been one to pass up a good mill ball toss.  Driving out of town the next morning we passed the new Dialysis Center.  I recalled there was an article in the paper about the local quilting guild that donated dozens of quilts for the comfort of the patients undergoing treatment there.  In Ely, if someone is in need, there is someone to help out.

I’m not sure I could live in a town that small again; I’ve grown accustomed to Costco, Starbucks and high-speed internet.  But I envy these people in ways that others envy the Kardashians.  They live life simply, they take care of their neighbors, and the only muckraking they care about has nothing to do with politicians.  I think they’re pretty darn lucky to live in Ely.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Good citizen

Recently we have been putting Dash the Wonder Dog through his paces at obedience school.  This past weekend he graduated from the Intermediate level and next week begins a six-week journey to become a Canine Good Citizen. Actually, the training is more for me.  I am learning that consistency and discipline are not exactly my strong suits.  More on that later.

Today I want to write about the brilliant idea I had during Dash’s training – Obedience School for People!  Don’t laugh – think about how much less annoying life would be if everybody had to attain their Good Citizen certificate.  One of the major complaints we hear, either in person or on TV,  is  how rude and inconsiderate people are these days.  “Honkers” in traffic, people with full carts in the Express Check-out line, someone in front of you at Starbucks ordering Cappacinos for their entire office.  But imagine a world where people were actually trained as well as our dogs!  To prove my point, here are some examples:

1.  Fetch – with canines the dogs are taught to go get something that you’ve thrown and bring it right back to you.  Oh, if only this had applied to some of my friends over Ice Skating Bookthe years.  I have loaned – and not gotten back – clothing, utensils, garden equipment and various other household items.  As an example, a friend “borrowed” my book on figure skating written by the great sportswriter Christine Brennan.  That was in 1997.  For the first year I hinted to her that I wanted to refresh my memory about some skaters and would sure like to re-read the book.  Nothing. Several other hints were also met with inaction. Finally, when we were moving out of state and I was pretty sure that I would never see her again I came right out and reminded her that the book was about two years overdue at my personal lending library.  Still…to this day the book resides on her bookshelf, permanently “borrowed” from me.   But – and here’s where the brilliance of my plan comes in – if my friend had been through training I could have said “fetch” and my book would have been promptly returned.  


Angry Mob2.  Wait – dogs are not generally long on patience or attention spans.  Sort of like husbands.  So the “wait” command teaches them to pause before entering or exiting a room or to stop doing whatever they’re doing (like bugging you to throw the ball for the 1,000th time).  I was thinking about the “wait” training trick when I was standing outside Costco the other morning.  I was there about five minutes before they opened and joined a crowd of about 20 people.  It was not particularly cold – it’s Scottsdale for Heaven’s sake – nor was it the morning before a holiday.  In other words, there should have been no overriding sense of urgency.  But at 9:03 when the big steel door still had not opened, not one but two (!) people called the store demanding that they open up.  And in rather harsh terms, I might add.  Now I have to admit, I love Costco.  I own stock in the company, I think they treat their employees well, and best of all, if you time it just right you can get a free meal by swerving through the aisles picking up all the free samples.  So when people are so impatient and rude that they are yelling at the nice Costco people for being THREE MINUTES late, I think that is a call to action.  If ever there was a need for people to  heed the “wait” command, it is apparently at the Scottsdale Costco.

3.  Heel – this is actually a technical term for when the dog is facing forward with its shoulder at your calf.  It is called their “positional space”.  Boy oh boy, based solely on Personal Spacemy observations, “heel” is a concept where we humans fall woefully short. We’ve all experienced the personal space invasion – the drunk at the cocktail party who stands so close that you could critique their dental work, the oaf at the movies who hogs the armrest, or the dunderhead at the Little League game who has to sit thisclose to you on the bleachers when three rows stand empty in front of you.  The worst violators seem to be on airplanes.  There are the Droolers, the Seat Tilters who leave you no leg room, and of course, the Sleepers.  I once had the misfortune to be in the window seat next to a rather large man who not only spread out all over the empty middle seat, but apparently suffered from narcolepsy.  Despite several attempts to wake him, he slumbered on.  My gyrations to crawl over him to get to the restroom would make a call girl blush.  If everyone was required by the rules set down in my Good Citizen requirements we could confidently enter the public square and – this is critical – airplanes, knowing that everyone would stay in their own darn “positional space”.


I’m sure there are other examples of how we might “train” people  I’d love to hear your ideas.  In the mean time, I’m sticking with the dogs.  I think my success rate will be better.





By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2013-05-05 07.34.18Sunday is Mother’s Day and as you loyal readers know, our mother passed away earlier this year.  So this is the first Mother’s Day that we will not have a mother to send flowers, cards and well-wishes to.   Last year my brother Bob and his wife Linda sent mom such a beautiful arrangement of flowers that mom commented to me that it was the best gift she had ever received.   Which only cemented my hunch that she always liked him best.

As anyone who knew her could attest, she was a driven and opinionated woman.  No misplaced hair or wrinkled shirt went unnoticed – or commented upon.  She was the first to point out that we had gained a few pounds.   Mom took great pride in her appearance, always wearing a perfectly coordinated outfit, matching shoes and oftentimes donning a rather large hat.  Her children, by contrast, are big fans of what I like to refer to as “soft clothes”.  Anything that has an elastic waistband or has been washed to within an inch of its life is just great with us.   In other words, we sometimes look like we were raised by wolves – a trait that bothered her no end.

My differences with her were many; we just seemed to view the world from opposite perspectives.  This was never more apparent than when she bought a new pair of reading glasses several years ago.  By this time I was watching her finances and reviewing her cash flow every three months.  So when she told me she had spent $500 on a pair of Versace glasses (see picture above) I just about keeled over.  I knew that she was already running low on money and couldn’t believe her extravagance.  “Why in the heck would you spend that kind of money?” I shouted into the phone.  She explained that they had little diamonds in them and that she just wanted something from a top designer.  I was furious.  But not as furious as I was six months later when she lost them.

And just to demonstrate how seriously she took my financial advice, she promptly spent another $500 to buy the very same pair again.  I was flabbergasted.  Here was a woman who saved aluminum foil remnants and took home doggie bags that went stale in her refrigerator just because she couldn’t “waste good money” by leaving food at a restaurant.  I thought she had lost her mind.

Turns out, she had only lost her memory.  A few weeks after she bought the second pair of glasses she discovered the first pair in the lost and found drawer at her church.

After she died we were cleaning out her apartment and I noticed that her reading glasses were on the nightstand.  I tucked them into my purse for safekeeping – I’d be darned if I was going to throw away a $500 pair of glasses!  I thought they would be a good reminder of her foolish spending.  When I got home I put them on top of my closet dresser, where I see them every day.

A few weeks ago I looked at them (with my $18 Costco reading glasses) and noticed that quite a few of the diamonds are missing.  Her vision was so poor that I’m sure she was blissfully unaware of their current shabby condition.  I began to see the glasses in a different light.  Maybe they aren’t  a reminder of her foolish spending but rather that when I am old,  I might also make some choices that others think inappropriate.    Maybe when I’m old, I too will want just one extravagant thing that makes me feel good, even when I can’t afford it.  Maybe when I get older I will begin to see things through my mother’s eyes.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even buy very expensive reading glasses – twice.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’m getting older.  There are numerous signs to remind me of this but foremost among them is that I’m getting grumpier.  I am easily annoyed by things that don’t work.  I could insert some joke here about our government but that’s too obvious – and besides there are lots of other people griping about that.   Slumping stock market?  I can deal with that.  Nope, I’m annoyed with the little stuff that sucks the life out of me every day.   Here’s just a slice from my last week.

1.  I went to Costco to buy a jar of almonds.  $500 later I checked out. Among the things I bought was a package of scissors.  They were encased in a plastic “clamshell”.  Ironically, the reason I succumbed to buying the scissors is that my old pair could safely be given to a 3 year old.  In other words, they were no match for Costco’s plastic.  I tried to pry the package apart.  No luck.  A swift slice with a paring knife resulted in a “swing and a miss” and practically sliced my finger off.  I hacked at it with a utility knife, looking a bit like a  scene from Psycho.  But the blade was too dull for the “Costco shield”.  My language, on the other hand, was becoming quite colorful.  What I needed was a really sharp pair of scissors.  Like the ones in the package.  They were as well-guarded as the Crown Jewels.  I thought about whipping out my husband’s chain saw.  At last I found a newer utility knife.  Success!  The scissors were freed from captivity but I was exhausted from the effort.  Do you think the CEO of Costco has ever tried to open one of these things?

2.  My husband and I have been trying to eat more healthy the past couple of years.  We are under the delusion that consuming our daily servings of fruits and vegetables now is going to make up for a lifetime of Oreos, Dairy Queen Blizzards and Chili Cheese Fries.  So I spend quite a bit of time in the produce section of the grocery store.  Have you tried wrestling with those plastic bags from a roller that you put stuff in?  They are impossible to open.  Yesterday I wanted to put some tomatoes in one.  No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the bag open.  I used to solve this problem but licking my fingers and then twisting the edges apart.  But ever since I read that grocery cart handles are the dirtiest place on Earth, I make Howard  Hughes look like a meth addict by comparison.  I took the tomatoes and the plastic bag over to the carrots that had just been sprayed (by the nozzle that also is full of germs, by the way) and wet my fingers on that moisture.  Okay, I’m a little nutty about this but really – can’t they make a bag that will open without me having to risk the norovirus?

3.   We have been customers of Direct TV for 12 years.  I’m pretty handy with AV components so I’ve been pretty successful in fixing most of the problems we’ve had with receivers over the years.  But last Thursday our receiver went out and none of my usual tricks would fix it.  I was terrified that I might miss “The Real Housewives of Orange County” so I broke down and called customer service.  It went something like this:

Me:  (After 30 minutes on hold) Hi – my receiver is not working.  I have pressed the red reset button, I have unplugged the unit for 15 minutes, and I have put new batteries in the remote.  I think I need to be connected to your next level of technical support.

Them:  Hello.  My name is Lobert.  (Okay, so I’ve been transferred to some country where they have trouble pronouncing “r’s”).  First, I need to ask you some questions.  Have you tried pressing the red reset button?

Me:  (Annoyed) Yes, I told you, I’ve done that.  I’ve also unplugged it and changed the batteries in the remote.

Them:  Have you tried unplugging it?

Me: (on my last nerve) YES!!!  I told you that – TWICE.

Them:  I have to go through my list.  Have you changed the batteries in your remote?

Me:  (eyeing the ice pick and wondering it it will go completely through my head) Yes – I’ve changed the batteries.

Them:  Oh, well if you’ve done all that then I can’t help you.  You need the next level of support.

So, here I sit, no TV, but I’m eating tomatoes and I can cut coupons out of the paper with great precision.  That will have to keep me happy for now.

Only 104 Shopping Days ’til Christmas

Thank you all for a record viewing weekend and your nice comments about our 911 tributes.  Now back to something lighter.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You know that Rick Perry was once a big Dem.?

Now as governor of Texas, he can hardly stand them.

He campaigned for Al Gore at their national convention

And prob’ly had a hand in his Internet invention.

A$ I wandered through Co$tco on a day in $eptember,

I $aw holiday trinket$, like it wa$ December.

We all know the rea$on for thi$ premature cheer;

 Gue$$ it’s good-bye to $ummer and Happy New Year!

The streets are again now free of some thugs.

While domestic abuse, the guns and the drugs

Are all in decline around this time of year;

The National Football League season is here.

Ashton Kutcher is now the new ‘Man’ on the scene;

He is taking the place of whacked-out Charlie Sheen.

On the set he is always seen laughing and grinning

And why shouldn’t he, he’s the one that is ‘WINNING!’


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