MERRY CHRISTMAS!

holiday carWe here at “A Bird’s Eye View” are taking a break for Christmas.  Actually, we consumed too much egg nog and can’t string two sentences together.  But fear not, we’ll be back next week with some inspiring drivel for the new year.

Merry Christmas to everyone and thank you so much for reading our blog each week.  We appreciate your “views” and comments.

Bob and Suzanne

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THE UGLY CHRISTMAS SHIRT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Note:  The shooting in Newtown, CT. is foremost on my mind this week and ordinarily I might comment on it.  But others have and will continue to write much more eloquently than me on the subject.  And frankly, I still get too choked up thinking about it.  So I’ve decided to stay within my wheelhouse and hopefully bring a much-needed laugh or at least the glimmer of a smile to you today.
mens ugly shirtLast week I lamented to my husband that our Christmas tree is looking a bit forlorn this year.  There is barely a present under its boughs – it looks like Whoville after the Grinch stole all the presents.  The problem?  Gift cards.

Our tree used to be overflowing with beautiful packages – glimmering paper, bright shiny bows and the occasional gift bag.  Now – we have a few meager looking gifts and many, many envelopes.  I get it – there is a certain practicality to gift cards.  It’s easy for us to shop, the recipients get exactly what they want, and hopefully, they can take advantage of the after-Christmas knock-downs.     Prices, not fist fights.

But buying gift cards has all the  joie de vivre of taking the car in for service.  Most every company’s card can be purchased while picking up parsnips at Safeway or cough medicine at Walgreens.  I still think there is nothing as satisfying as finding exactly the right present for someone and watching their face light up as they open it on Christmas morning.  But I also recognize that sometimes things go terribly wrong. We have had “train wrecks” galore in our family all springing from the good intentions of our mother.

Well into her 90’s, despite years of our protestations, each Christmas she insisted on giving a shirt to every adult family member.  To give benefit to the doubt, let’s just say that at her age, she does not exactly have her finger on the pulse of current fashion.  Or anything that even hints of fashion in the last 30 years.  Each Christmas she would lovingly select quite possibly the worst shirts ever made – colorful geometric or wild prints for the guys and sequins or some sort of farm animal motif for the women.  Over the years we could have won Oscars for our performance while opening these gifts.  And when it was our turn to open “the shirt” our siblings and their spouses would be in the corner trying to hold in the laughter as we artfully “oohed” and “aahed” our way through with as much sincerity as we could muster.

One year she so outdid herself in her selection of my nephew Matt’s shirt that my nephew-in-law, Colin, declared that it was, in fact, The Ugliest Shirt on Earth.  After peals of laughter and a dare to wear it in public, the shirt went into hiding.  Matt is a man who knows that revenge is best served cold; he re-gifted the shirt to Colin on his birthday in July, when he was least expecting it.  Colin, in turn, wrapped it up beautifully the following Christmas and re-gifted it back to Matt.  Over the years, the shirt has been hidden in expensive wine containers, golf ball boxes, and rolled up into Christmas stockings.  But the sine qua non, was when Colin, who is British, sent the shirt to his parents in England who put it in a local department store box and sent it Fed Ex to an unsuspecting Matt at his office.

Which all goes to prove that even the worst of gifts can provide years of amusement.  Just try doing that with a gift card.

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HOLIDAY TRAVEL

by Bob Sparrow

holiday car    No, this isn’t the counterpoint to my last post on all that is good about air travel.  In fact one of the reasons I have such a positive attitude towards air travel is that I don’t travel during the holidays.  Whoever created the phrase, ‘holiday travel’ took the fun out of two of my favorite words.  I love the holidays and I love to travel, but together you’ve got the beginnings of ‘the nightmare before Christmas’.  If you’re trying to fly somewhere the nightmares feature things like delayed flight, missed connections, lost luggage, sitting on an airplane next to a guy with reindeer breath and practicing your ‘Just what I wanted’ expression when you get that battery operated recycled toilet paper dispenser.  If you’re driving, the nightmares are about jammed freeways, road rage, kids screaming “Are-we-there-yet?” and the practicing of, “They just fit” when trying on those new glow-in-the-dark plastic socks.

     Gone are the days when we could just go over the river and through the woods toover the river grandmother’s house and enjoy some of her homemade Chocolate Chip cookies.  Today grandma lives in a downtown, high-rise condo, six hours away where parking is limited and expensive – and the cookies are gluten-free.

     Holiday travel, indeed.  Shouldn’t there be a term for ruining two perfectly good words by juxtaposing them?  I’m sure there are lots of similar two-word combinations that shouldn’t be joined.  Here’s one that immediately comes to mind; the word ‘love’ is one of the best words around and ‘child’ is also a great word, but put them together and you’ve got . . . a bastard!  Shouldn’t there be a name for these kinds of words, I mean paired words like ‘Civil war’ or ‘jumbo shrimp’ are oxymorons, so maybe we name words like ‘love child’ and ‘holiday travel’ oxybastards.

     How could they do that to two such beautiful words?  Etymologically speaking, the word holiday is derived from the words ‘Holy Day’, so the term originally had religious connotations, but today it seems that the closest any holiday comes to religion is when Travelersomeone says, ‘Thank God I don’t have to go to work today” or “Can you believe this god-awful traffic?.”  Holiday actually is a . . . never mind, what I really wanted to talk about was ‘travel’, because today in the mail I received the National Geographic Traveler magazine featuring their 2nd Annual Best of the World – 20 Must-See Places for 2013 – great reading for a raining Sunday afternoon where I can reverse the aforementioned oxybastard and dream about and plan a ‘travel holiday’.  There now, doesn’t that sound much better?

     I rarely think of those two words, no matter what the order, and not think of Bob Hope traveling half way around the world every Christmas to entertain our troops.  He started during World War II when he island-hopped throughout the south Pacific in 1944 to the tune of some 30,000 miles while performing over 150 USO shows.  He travel to KoreaBob Hope troops during that war (Sorry, conflict) and did shows in Viet Nam every Christmas from 1964 to 1972.  He also did Christmas performances during Desert Storm (1990-91) for the troops in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.  Bob Hope was a ‘holiday traveler’ for 50 years, going wherever our troops were stationed.  Now it wasn’t all toil and drudgery, he typically traveled in a troupe that included the likes of Ursula Andress, Anne Margaret, Carroll Baker and Raquel Welch, which for those too young to remember those beauties, today it would be like  having to spend Christmas with Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron and Salma Hayek.  Hope was known to crack, “I bring them along to remind the boys what they’re fighting for.”

 christmas-afghanistan-2011    There is no place like home for the holidays, but those who will travel and perhaps experience ‘holiday travel’ nightmares before Christmas, might be well-served to remember when you’re flight is delayed or the traffic is backed up and even when you receive that re-gifted fruit cake, Bob Hope’s amazing sacrifice during a time when he most wanted to be home and today’s service men and women all over the world who will be home for the holiday only in their dreams.

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GOING TO THE DOGS

by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Raes five boysMy husband and I have lost our minds. We recently decided to add to our family.  No, we’re not that crazy (or young).   In February we will become parents to a 12 week old Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The picture at left shows the litter at 8 days old. We don’t know yet which one will be ours, but I’m hoping it’s the smart one.  I am aware of the pitfalls of a new puppy – we can say goodbye to sleep, sanity and our clean white carpeting. On the other hand, if “Puppy Breath” was sold as perfume it would be a best seller.

I haven’t owned a dog in 25 years so I thought I should become familiar with the modern dog world. Conveniently, PetSmart was sponsoring its annual Holiday Pet Festival near us this past weekend. It offered an opportunity to see (and pet) dogs, peruse the latest dog supplies and hopefully pick up some tips.  And it was free.  The perfect storm.

The festival was held at West World, which is a HUGE exhibition center where they hold the Barrett-Jackson car auction and other large events. I figured they would cordon off a small portion of it for the dog soiree. But as I entered the building it became clear that I am horribly, crushingly, out of date when it comes to the dogs and the vast array of “stuff” available to them.

Twenty-five years ago my dog had a collar, leash and feeding bowls.  I fed her whatever canned dog food was on sale at the supermarket.  On a good day she got a piece of a hot dog or whatever scrap happened to hit the kitchen floor.  Apparently my  laissez-faire approach to dog ownership would now warrant an emergency call to the SPCA.

The “fesitval” made it clear that today’s dog requires vitamins, special organic, gluten-free food, freeze-dried liver treats, harnesses, and a bed that would have to pass muster at the Ritz.  And though not required, it was strongly suggested that if you love your dog at all you should purchase a dog massage, a day at the doggie spa, blinged out collars and sunglasses.  I won’t even go into the ridiculous costumes being offered but really…some of these outifts would embarrass Lady Gaga.

All in all it was a fun day.  There were small dogs and large dogs, and dogs that looked like they wanted to be anywhere else:

small dogs

large dogs

bored dogs

But my favorite was the dog who decided, right in the middle of the arena, to “do it’s business”.  Big time.  And guess what breed it was?  A Cavalier King Charles spaniel.  I think I’m going to need a bigger shovel.

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Things Not Heard From Passengers After A Flight

by Bob Sparrow

  •  “I wish we could go through security on our way out of the airport too”
  • “I didn’t realize how comfortable those middle seats were”
  • “I just never seem to get tired of sitting on the tarmac”
  • “I wish that guy in the seat in front of me could tilt his chair back a little further”
  • “Yum, I’ve got to get this recipe”

      Most of the time I write about the destination, but this week it’s about getting there.  I’ve done a fair amount of air travel, both business and pleasure and I must confess that I’ve probably not uttered any of the above phrases.  But there is one thing that I utter after every flight – read on to find out.

     The truth is after 2,000,000-plus miles in the not-always-friendly skies, I still think air travel is amazing.  It still blows my mind to think that I can get on an airplane in California, sit in a chair traveling 600 miles an hour 35,000 feet above the ground, eat, drink, sleep, completely ignore a person sitting inches from me and within a few hours I can be in Connecticut.  I actually flew to Connecticut a couple of weeks ago attending a sorority meeting . . . don’t ask, I’m still trying to explain it to my wife.  Anyway, I may be fairly alone on this one, but I think airlines get a bad rap.

     I’m always amused by self-important business executives whose flight has been delayed and they are demanding some answers.  These are the same people who haven’t started one of their own meetings on time – ever.  The reality is that as a society our punctuality bar has drifted fairly low and actually I think the airlines do a better job than most at being on time.

     Admittedly, I love to travel, so I don’t see airplanes and airports a necessary evils – I see them as parts of the process – it’s probably that ‘life’s a journey not a destination’ thing that helps explains my lack of disdain for the airline industry.  Yes, I know you’ve read stories about passengers being held on tarmacs for hours without peanuts or vodka, or someone being violated during a pat down, but the reason you’re reading about them is that they are news – they are very rare occasions given the fact that there are somewhere between 85,000 – 90,000 flights in the world PER DAY!

    I actually enjoy being in an airport, because if I’m in an airport it means I’m going somewhere, and I love to go somewhere; with the possible exceptions of the dentist and back to Home Depot for the fourth time to get the part that actually fits.  Most airports today are full-service – you can get a haircut, practice your golf swing, and a ‘friend of mine’ told me that you can even get a massage with a happy . . . meal.  I’ve even heard of people who, if they have a few hours between flights and there is an International terminal, will go there just to eat something foreign and to listen to different foreign languages – OK, that was me on my last trip.

     Of course when I was traveling a lot and was up-graded to first class most of the time that chair was a Bark-A-Lounger with a personal valet, but I ride in ‘steerage’ now and still enjoy the ride.  I always get a window seat because:

  • I love the view – I’ve seen great aerial shots of Yosemite, the Rockies, the Mississippi River, the Alps, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Statue of Liberty, even the North Pole.
  • I have a good bladder and don’t typically need to get up during a cross-country flight and sitting in the window seat keeps me from getting up for those with a bladder that is not as flight-friendly as mine.
  • I can lean up against, sleep or drool on the window instead of the person next to me.
  • My knees and elbows are still healing from the beverage carts that have banged into me when I used to sit in an aisle seat.

      Additionally, I know when I’m in my seat, I will not get a phone call, I will not be asked to take out the garbage or fix that leaky sink – in short, I will not be bothered.  And instead of those dogged eared Sky Malls to leaf through and magazines where the crossword puzzle is already partly done (incorrectly), today we have ‘Apple gadgets’.  I don’t need to carry books or magazines with me, just my iPad, and of course, I have my computer for . . . computing, but the most important electronic accoutrement I carry is my iPod.  Not just because it affords me a rare opportunity to just sit and listen to some of the 12,000 songs on it, but it allows me ignore my neighbor.  I know that doesn’t sound very . . .well, neighborly, but I’m sure you’ve all experienced the person who sits next to you and says, “How you doing?” and before you could answer they’re telling you how they’re doing, where they’ve been, where they’re going and who’s supposed to meet them when we land. So when I sit down I put in my iPod earplug my neighbor assumes I’m busy – sometimes the iPod isn’t even on.

   So, what do I always say after a flight?  As I pass the cockpit on my way out . . . I always say “Thank you”.  Because if I’m saying thank you it means that my perfect record of number of landings equaling the number of take offs is still intact, and I have the pilot to thank for that.  I’ll admit that flying isn’t always peaches and peanuts, but even if I’ve had a bad experience I’m still amazed by that chair that goes 600 miles per hour 35,000 feet above the earth.

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WALKING IT OFF

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

As my brother so accurately wrote last year, Thanksgiving is our family’s favorite holiday.  After all, we are related to five of the 17 families that came over on the Mayflower.  After I discovered this bit of history I deluded myself into thinking that our DNA is hard-wired to love the holiday commemorating them.  But the cold, hard truth is that we love this holiday because we love to eat.

We are all big eaters in our family.  There is never an “old maid” left on the  hors d’oeuvre tray and “thirds” are for the light eaters.  We are the family that inspired expandable waistbands.  We do have standards – we do not eat jellied cranberry sauce and no one belches at the table.  So far.

And yet we are not so slovenly that we have no self-respect.  No sir, we are all pretty good about exercise and trying to stay in shape.  For years I wore a pedometer to ensure that I walked 10,000 steps every day.  So in anticipation of Thursday’s annual bacchanal, I went to walk.about.com which has a handy little feature that lets you check all the food you’ll eat on Thanksgiving and then covert it to calories.  I thought that could be an interesting exercise, forgetting that when it comes to food, ignorance is bliss.

A glass of wine?  Check.  A celery stalk stuffed with bleu cheese?  Why not?  Okay, I’ll opt for one cracker with a slice of Stilton.  How much could that add?  On I went, from the turkey to the mashed potatoes to the requisite green bean casserole .  My total calorie count? 3,365!!!!

Then the intrusive, vindictive, people-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands snoops at walk.about.com felt the need to let me know with laser-like precision exactly how many miles and steps it would take me to burn off all those calories.  Turns out I need to walk 34 miles or 67,300 steps to wear off my dinner.  From a scheduling standpoint,  I need to cram 6 1/2 days of walking into Thursday.  If I start walking in downtown San Francisco I couldn’t stop until I reached Santa Clara. Fortunately Stanford Medical Center is on the way – perhaps I could drop in for a gastric bypass.

But here’s the worst part, I lied when I took the test.  One cracker with cheese?  I so frequently hog the snack table that my family nickname is “Hoover lips”.  I consider mashed potatoes to be health food and, frankly, I think it insulting to the cook if I pass on all the pies and whipped cream.  Even though the “cook” is Costco.  My real calorie count is probably north of  6,000.

So when everyone gathers on Thanksgiving to eat, watch football and talk about the nation’s pending financial crisis, I will sadly find no room for compromise.  Despite the obvious risks and danger, I will be jumping off the caloric cliff.

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Veteran’s Day

 by Bob Sparrow

     If you’re reading this on Monday morning it may have just reminded you that yesterday was Veteran’s Day.  If you’re reading this after Monday, you may have just been reminded that you missed Veteran’s Day – it’s easy to do.  I’m going to give our blog followers the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were well-aware of the holiday because if you’re reading our blog then you’re among the most intelligent people on the planet.  I don’t know about you, but I heard more than once over the weekend things like, “Is Monday a holiday, what is it Columbus Day or something?”  Veteran’s Day is probably our least known about and remembered federal holiday.   Why is that?  How has it become so easy to marginalize a day that we all should remember and celebrate?

     The history of Veteran’s Day perhaps lends itself to its enigmatic reputation.   The holiday was created as a celebration of an armistice signed between the Allies and Germany at the end of World War I in 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, thus Veteran’s Day is November 11th.  However, the Treaty of Versailles, officially ending the war, wasn’t signed until June 1919, but our government didn’t let the facts of history get in the way of the creation of a new federal holiday.

     When I recently asked people to explain Veteran’s Day, they mostly said something like, it’s a day to celebrate our veterans.  I think the name gave it away.  When I ask them what they are going to do to celebrate, they usually just looked at me funny and said, “Celebrate?”  Some will say solemnly something like “We’ll celebrate by remembering those who gave their lives for our country.”  I’m tempted to remind them that that is Memorial Day, but I don’t.  After hearing a lot of confusion about this holiday, I decided to compare Veteran’s Day with other holidays in terms of how we celebrate them or what is associated with them and see if there wasn’t some way to get Veteran’s Day on the same level as some of our more ‘popular’ holidays.

        •  Martin Luther King Day – recognizing civil rights
        • Valentine’s Day – flowers, candy, dinner for your ‘sweetheart’
        • St. Patrick’s Day – wearing green and drinking
        • Easter – going to church, hunting for eggs, eating ham
        • Memorial Day – remembering out fallen warriors
        • 4th of July – fireworks, barbecue, parades
        • Labor Day – celebrate the worker, last barbecue of the summer
        • Halloween – scary costumes and candy
        • Thanksgiving – turkey and football
        • Christmas/Chanukah – religious, food and gift giving
        •  New Year’s – drinking and making resolutions that we never keep

      So it would seem that in order to make Veteran’s Day more popular, like our other holidays, we need to create more customs around it like traditional garb and food.  Perhaps on Veteran’s Day we should all dress in camo gear and pop open a can of c-rations to feast on.  It also might be nice to commit to memory the words of Alan Alexander, who said, “A veteran is someone who at some point in his or her life writes a blank check to the United States of America in an amount up to and including the loss of his or her life.”

     Thank you to all who have served – we owe you a great deal.

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