Awesome But Getting Better – A Life Update

Pondering my life on a bench at UK

Pondering my life on a bench at UK

In eleven short days I turn 60.  My how time has flown in this wonderful life of mine.

But I have not had much time to reflect on this.  About a year ago I had set a goal to write 365 things I was grateful for…blessings in my life.  I even created a spreadsheet to try to stay organized.  I didn’t get very far…life throws us for some loops.

Since my last birthday in October 2015, I have been on a roller coast ride with my hands high up in the air enjoying the ride of life.  I have experienced many ups and downs and there have been many things that have taken time out of my “blogging” life.

Teaching Japanese at Berea College in spring 2016

Teaching Japanese at Berea College in spring 2016

In February of this year I had a sudden opportunity to teach Japanese at Berea College in Berea, KY.  It literally fell out of the sky and was a great blessing in many ways. But, by May, it was gone.  It was temporary. But it was fun!

Then, once again, in August I began another teaching gig.  Once again, it may be temporary, but I am teaching Japanese at the University of Kentucky.  It is rewarding in many ways, but also takes a toll on my time. My passions have suffered – little time for blogging, few opportunities to go watch herons at Jacobson Park, fewer chances for photography (an my Nikon camera died as well…so I am stuck with just my iPhone for now)

Japanese Professor at UK

Japanese Professor at UK

lifeiskaizenBut, I am grateful.  I am alive and doing fine.  I am earning money doing something I am passionate about.  I love to teach and I love the Japanese language. I am also getting exercise as I walk daily on campus.  This is good.

Along with the ups and downs, the heavens have opened up other opportunities and I have been blessed to get some traveling in.  Early in the year we had hopes for a big family gathering in Utah…all of the grandkidz and children.  A big roadtrip.  But, things fizzled as schedules and finances and other things threw obstacles in the way.  It was a real downer for me.

My office space at UK

My office space at UK

But God is kind.  He poured out a blessing from heaven with the Japanese teaching position at UK and my heart is full. Our short biking trips with Julianne and Marissa and Julianne’s sister Laura have filled that travel urge.  I am still getting photos.  I am squeezing time in when I can (the gig at UK takes up nearly 40 hours a week with three classes four times a week and 75 students.

In many ways I am finally fulfilling a dream.  I went to college in the 1980s with hopes of teaching.  Now I am finally doing it as I approach 60. Its a blessing.

I can even take my “photo art” concept pics at the school and elsewhere.  Life is awesome, but its getting better!!

In a few days I will hit a milestone.  I am grateful to have made it this far.  I hope I can catch up on my 365 days of Gratitude posts.  I have so many more things to be grateful for and I want to express them. I’ll work on it.

UK Logo...I walk over this daily on my way to class

UK Logo…I walk over this daily on my way to class

I do get chances to get out.  Got these sunflowers east of Lexington

I do get chances to get out. Got these sunflowers east of Lexington

Saw an Egret at Jacobson Lake (actually saw 12 of them!)

Saw an Egret at Jacobson Lake (actually saw 12 of them!)

Played with concept pictures from my iPhone - this is the Kentucky Theater

Played with concept pictures from my iPhone – this is the Kentucky Theater

Staring down a wildcat

Staring down a wildcat

Patterson Hall is where I teach my classes at UK. Saw a nice sky and sunrise the other day

Patterson Hall is where I teach my classes at UK. Saw a nice sky and sunrise the other day

Sunset at Jacobson Lake

Sunset at Jacobson Lake

LIFE IS GOOD

Horse Farm Country

Horse Farm Country

Life’s Journey and Choices – Part I

CO 13 N of Craig CO June 2013As I approach age 60, I find myself reflecting often on my past and the journey I have taken to get where I am now.

Each of us has our own life journey…our destiny. This journey takes us along our own path of life. We each blaze our own individual trails, the course of which is determined by our each and every individual choice.

As babies and youth, many of our choices are dictated by our parents or guardians, who help us find our paths based upon their life experiences. But, as we gain in age and develop our own unique personalities and perspectives, we begin chiseling away our own life’s path.

As teens and young adults, we are full bore into our decision making and thus responsible for each and every decision made — not to mention the consequences of said decisions.

Generally speaking, I am a religious person. I believe in a Supreme Being whom I call Heavenly Father. I have believed in this God since a young age. I am also a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ, both as my elder brother and also as my Savior. That said, I am also a man of faith as I can only really have faith that God the Father and His son Jesus Christ truly live and guide me through the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

ChurchJuly2016I note the above only to preface how I look at my life’s journey. Much of it has been based on those core beliefs.

Another core belief of mine, which stems from my perception of the gospel, is the freedom of choice. God has sent us to this world to learn to make choices and to learn from those choices through the consequential results of said choices.

It is thus the freedom to choose that sets us on our life’s journey. Our choices, large and small, are the seeds of our destiny. We alone ultimately build the path.

Roads2As I think back on my life, I can pinpoint certain decisions that were extremely impactful and really shot me forward on the chosen path, whether I liked it or not.

FaithSeedIn the Book of Mormon, which I believe to be filled with many truths, there is a chapter in the Book of Alma (Chapter 32) that speaks of faith as being like a seed. From Alma 32:28 – this could be applicable with any faith in any church:

 “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

ConsequencesA whole new meaning to Alma’s allegory of the seed of faith has sprung to my mind as I considered this. Each choice we make we do with faith of some kind. It may be blind faith or even thoughtless faith. But we KNOW that each choice will have a consequence and thus our faith provides hope for a positive outcome for that choice.

Alma notes that the small acorn can turn into a giant oak tree. I see that tree as another symbol of our journey. Along the way we actually plant many seeds…each one is some sort of faith and each turns into its own tree. But when the seed is planted and the choice is made, we really don’t know what the end result will be until we get there. Like the trees of the forest, each tree in our journey is different. But each tree’s trunk represents that choice and its end result ( or continuing result in some cases).

LexingtonMO2I made a choice in 1975 to be baptized into the LDS church. I was only 18. I had no idea whatsoever what direction that choice would result in. As a sixty year old, I can now look down from the top of the massive tree that the one little seed of faith blossomed into. It’s a gnarly old tree with a thick yet twisted trunk and thousands of branches. It is my own life story tree. All a result of choosing to be baptized.

GnarlyTreeLike many old giant trees, a look at the rings will tell many stories of its life. The droughts, the good times, the weathered times. And this tree has no comparison to others. Every tree is different.

After baptism, there were many other decisions/choices that built this path of life. A decision to serve a mission rather than accept a good paying job set a number of potential consequences in motion. One consequence of that one decision was that I really have never been wealthy (and that may be the result of numerous other decisions along the way as well). Yet, another unforeseen result was that my life has been filled with Japanese related jobs and experiences, a recurring theme in my life’s journey. One decision — serve a mission to Japan — has led to a myriad of results and another special tree of its own. And I have no idea at all where taking the job would have led me…and I can’t regret the choice. Indeed, regretting choices only brings sorrow, but can’t fix things. The choice made leads to the consequence. The finality of a choice is actually pretty scary…thus faith and hope must drive all choices wherever possible.

DavidMission5I did make my mission choice based on faith in God above and the belief that He inspired and advised me to make that choice. There was no pre-destiny. He may know the ultimate results of that choice based on my personality, but He can only foreordain us if we make the choice based on His guidance. Nevertheless, He also knows that there will soon be another choice down the road that He can advise and guide me on, but that I will, in the end, make the choice myself.

While serving my mission I had to make many minuscule choices. Some became habits. Some were long term life habits. Others were habits that necessitated change or revision based on circumstances, new information, new technology, etc.

img_8050Upon return, other choices — forks in the road of life’s journey — came about. Do I get a job? Do I go to school? Do I do both? Where to go to college? Do I look for a wife? Decisions decisions.

Quite often we make our choices based upon personal experience or by consulting others, especially our friends and family. What they do or advise can dictate what we choose. My friends owned a house in Provo, it was a place to live while I went to college. Easy decision.

Based on the experience of others, I made an educated choice that if I went to BYU I would find a wife, a help mete, an eternal companion.

Now remember, I got to this point by choosing baptism, choosing a mission, choosing to move in to a friend’s place in Provo.

DavidJuli9The funny thing about choices are the consequences. After my mission, I bought a cheap 1963 VW bug. It was cheap. It was transportation. It was also old and it broke down.

This is where things can get interesting! The consequence of a choice – buying an old car – led me to my wife. The car broke down. I had to take a bus to work. I missed the bus. She was there and had missed it as well. Fortuitous meeting? Result of buying an old car? (This story really gets complex and many more choices were made before we finally were married.) But, I aver, that the Lord knew we needed to find each other so He made it happen. But it was also on Julianne and me to make the choices once our respective life paths crossed. He facilitated the opportunity, but we chose. The meeting was an answer to a prayer of faith…little did I know that purchasing an old car would become the means to that answer!!

LoveIronically, due to choices, the initial meeting only led to a few visits, but no dates. I KNEW she was the one, but I didn’t pursue it. And then she was gone. Returned to Arizona and I knew only her first name.

DavidJuli4Then school started. Unbeknownst to me she had returned to BYU. Once again, a small, if not thoughtless choice had me choosing a place to walk in the student center. She happened to be in the same place and our paths crossed again. I knew the choice this time and made sure to make it. Name and phone number in hand, she was called that night. Two weeks later another choice was made which included a ring, a bended knee and a question. We both made a choice that day to share many of our life journey experiences.

But, once again, this may never had happened if not for the one choice to be baptized.

End of Part I

Countdown 365: #304 – Joe Kravetz, My Adoptive Father

Joe Kravetz with David, ca. 1959

Joe Kravetz with David, ca. 1959 in Albuquerque, NM

Today is the 82nd birthday of Joseph Daniel Kravetz (born 4 December 1933), my adoptive father.  Adoption is the act of legally placing a child with parents (or parent) who are not its natural parents. As I have noted in other posts in the pasts, I have effectively have two sets of parents — my natural parents (Joe Laurienzo and Orene Goldberg, aka Jennierose Lavender) and my adoptive parents (Joe Kravetz and Marjorie Tudor). Of these four, Joe Kravetz had a major and long term role raising me as his adopted child from about age 2 to age 17 and then, of course, has always had the role of my father, despite any ups and downs we have had over the years.  I am truly grateful to him for all of the sacrifices he made in the challenge of raising me.  Much of who I was came from him and my adoptive mother Marge.

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

Joe Kravetz was the third of four children born to Jewish immigrants Alexander Kravetz and Jessica Evelson.  (Ironically, my real father Joe Laurienzo was also a child of Italian immigrants and my natural mother Orene was a child of German/Lithuanian Jewish immigrants). Joe was born in 1932 in Ossining, NY and spent all of his youth growing up there.  His father Alexander emigrated to the United States on the ship George Washington, which departed from Bremen, Germany on 20 July 1914 and arrived in New York on 3 August 1914.  Family tradition says that Alexander walked with a couple of others form his home in Minsk, Russia (now Belarus) to Bremen, Germany where they got on the boat.  They left to escape persecution (think “Fiddler on the Roof” — in fact, Alexander was a tailor!!)

Minsk (currently in Belorus) to Bremen, Germany is about 770 miles

Minsk (currently in Belarus) to Bremen, Germany is about 770 miles

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

Joe’s mother Jessica Evelson (probably spelled Jewelson) also left from Bremen.  She came from Vilnius, Lithuania and arrived in Philadelphia on 4 August 1913 on the USS Neckar.

JoeKKindergaten1938a

Joe Kravetz in Kindergarten ca. 1938. I believe he is the one on the right in the middle row with the white shirt and white shorts and curly black hair.

I don’t have many photos of him as a young.  The photo on the right is the oldest photo I have of him.

He has always had black curly hair and this picture sure shows that head of hair.

He had an older brother Louis, who is still alive and doing well in Houston, Texas. His older sister Evelyn Levy (she married Gordon Levy) was born on November 29th, 1931 and died April 28th, 2005 in Tarrytown, NY.  He also has a younger sister Sylvia who lives in Silver Spring, MD.

Over the years I had numerous opportunities to meet them and many of their children, my cousins through adoption.

Joe never talked much about his life growing up in New York. There was much pain in the family because many of Alexander’s and Jessica’s family lost their lives in the early purges of the 1920s and 30s and then later in the German holocaust of World War II.  I am sure that life had to be tough growing up.

Joe Kravetz in fifth grade in 1944.

Joe Kravetz fifth grade class in 1944. I am assuming he is the one in front on the left

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

Joe and siblings: (L-R) Sylvia, Joe, Evelyn and Lou.

Joe and siblings: (L-R) Sylvia, Joe, Evelyn and Lou in October 1997, Tarrytown, NY

My life with Joe Kravetz began in December 1958 when he married my natural mother Orene Goldberg.  Just about one year earlier, Orene left my natural father Joe Laurienzo.  She returned to her home in Albuquerque, NM as her staunchly Jewish mother wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy.  Naturally, as a young child of two I didn’t have any say in the matter.  No blame is being made here…things happen and the fact that I ended up being the adoptive son to Joe Kravetz was, in many respects, a blessing to my life as it put me on the path to where I am now.  Had I stayed in Cleveland, my life would have taken an entirely different direction!! Following is a clip from the Albuquerque Journal in Dec. 1958 (today was the first time I have ever seen this!!!)

Newspaper clipping announcing the wedding of Orene and Joe (Albuquerque Journal 19 Dec 1958)

Newspaper clipping announcing the wedding of Orene and Joe (Albuquerque Journal 19 Dec 1958)

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958 – Don’t know all of the people in this photo, but Joe and Orene are in the middle.  To Joe’s right is Marion Goldberg and her husband Ralph Goldberg (my natural grandparents). To Orene’s left is grandmother Jessica Kravetz, brother Louis Kravetz.  I believe that the gal on her knees in front of Orene is her sister Maxine.  I think that the one to Maxine’s right is Joe’s sister Sylvia (I believe).

JoeKMilitaryFrom 1954 to 1956 Joe Kravetz served in the US Army as a radio operator.  He did his basic training at Ft. Hood and then was assigned to a facility in Albuquerque. He was discharged in 1956 but then served in the reserves.  Indeed, one of my earliest memories as a child was him coming home to our small duplex in his uniform with a duffel bag.

I don’t know much more about his military service, but do know that is how he made his way to Albuquerque in the first place. And, as a member of the synagogue there, he was ultimately introduced to and married Orene in 1958 and was apparently happy to inherit a son as part of the package.

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

I don’t have many memories of those early years.  I know that eventually, Joe made his way in to retail, working for Payless Drugs in Albuquerque. In July 1960, he and Orene had a child, my half-brother, Aaron.

I do know that Joe loved to take drives to the mountains and see the scenery.  He was also an avid hiker.  He also liked to take pictures.  Fortunately, we have lots of photos of the kids growing up.

However, he was gone a lot due to work and so time with him was rare. And soon it became worse as he and Orene got divorced in 1961 and I was again without a parent.  Aaron and I were left with babysitters most of the time in 1961 and 1962 as he worked as a single parent to raise us…a rarity in the early 1960s. (Note: an interesting article I came across noted that 1960, only about 32 million Americans, 18 and older, were single (either divorced or widowed or always-single). That was 28 percent of the adult population. By 2013, there were 105 million single Americans, accounting for 44 percent of the adult population.)

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

Joe eventually met and married Marjorie Tudor on 13 October 1962.  She was a divorced single mother with a son, Danny, who was only 2 weeks younger then me. So, we were then a family of 5.  We got a house in what was then called Snow Vista (in the NE Heights of Albuquerque just off of Route 66).  By this time Joe was doing well with Payless Drugs (which by then had become Skaggs Drug).  Here are a few photos of Joe over the years.

As can be seen in the photo on the right, he was a handsome man in the 1950s.  Very active and rail thin, which he has been throughout his life.

I have no idea what his aspirations were for life back in the 1950s and not sure how his marriage to Orene and taking on the role of a father changed things for his future.  He never kept a journal and didn’t talk much about those kinds of things, so I am afraid we’ll never know for sure.

Joe in the 1950s doing what he liked best...hiking

Joe in the 1950s doing what he liked best…hiking

Joe Kravetz around 1959

Joe Kravetz around 1959

Joe Kravetz on Long's Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. He took me on this hike

Joe Kravetz on Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. He took me on this hike

Joe with David in 1958, soon after he became my adoptive father

Joe with David in 1958, soon after he became my adoptive father

Joe in Denver, probably on a hike in the Rocky Mountains, ca. 1968

Joe in Denver, probably on a hike in the Rocky Mountains, ca. 1968 (That was his favorite sweater)

Joe with David, Aaron and Danny in 1963 or 64 (in Albuquerque)

Joe with David, Aaron and Danny in 1962 or 63 (in Albuquerque)

By 1964 Marge and Joe had my brother Gary. We were then off to Dallas.  Not long after that he was transferred to Denver, where, eventually, my youngest sibling, my sister Sherry, was born. (Even by this time I was still not aware that I had been adopted)

Joe Kravetz with David, Gary, Aaron and Danny in Dallas in 1964

Joe Kravetz with David, Gary, Aaron and Danny in Dallas in 1964

Sherry and Gary with Dad in 1974

Sherry and Gary with Dad in 1974 (Gotta love those socks!!)

Joe and Marge in 1978 in Jemez Springs, NM. By this time they were divorced but posed for this photo.

Joe and Marge in 1978 in Jemez Springs, NM. By this time they were divorced but posed for this photo.

Dad and me on a hike in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico in 1978, shortly after I returned from my LDS Mission to Japan

Dad and me on a hike in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico in 1978, shortly after I returned from my LDS Mission to Japan

Joe with my siblings Aaron, Gary and Sherry in the 1990s

Joe with my siblings Aaron, Gary and Sherry in January 1992

After more transfers to Great Falls and Bozeman in Montana and then to Sat Lake City (Murray) in Utah, things had gotten challenging.  Both Mom and Dad worked to keep the family together, but they didn’t see eye to eye on much.  I eventually left the house and joined the LDS Church and left on a mission. To this day I am of the opinion that God had prepared a way for me to get to Salt Lake and join the church and that this relationship with Joe was the mode of transport to get me there.  No sooner was I gone and he was transferred to a store in Northridge, CO (by this time Skaggs had become Osco Drug).  He and Marge were soon divorced and she went to Jemez Springs, where she had grown up, and took Gary and Sherry with her.  Aaron went with Dad.  Danny, who had mental retardation, was in a group home in Las Vegas, NM.

Joe hamming it up in front of Osaka Castle with my wife Julianne in 1990

Joe hamming it up in front of Osaka Castle with my wife Julianne in 1990

By 1979 I was married and in college.  Julianne and I made our way to Flagstaff and then, by 1984 we were in Mesa, where I attended graduate school at Arizona State.  All of that time I tried to stay in touch with my Dad. Then in 1987 we went to Japan and were fortunate enough for him to visit.  He had never really been to a foreign country before, so this was a big adventure for him.

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto in 1990

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan in 1990

In his later years, after retiring from Osco, we did keep in touch, but after his Japan visit, he rarely got to see his grandchildren. But, I do have a few shots of him with the grandkids.  The major opportunity came on a family reunion in New York in 1997.

Joe Kravetz with grandkids in 1989...Amaree, Solomon, Seth, Marissa and Chelsea

Joe Kravetz with grandkids in 1989…Amaree, Solomon, Seth, Marissa and Chelsea (in Mesa, AZ when we visited for the holidays from Japan)

Joe with family in 1997 in Tarrytown, NY

Joe with family in 1997 in Tarrytown, NY – Back row – Julianne, sister Sherry, Joe and me.  Front row – Marissa, Chelsea, Amaree, Seth and Solomon

Joe with kids at Cumberland Gap on Kentucky/Tennessee border

Joe with kids at Cumberland Gap on Kentucky/Tennessee border with Solomon, Chelsea and Seth (ca 1993)

Joe with my sister Sherry, her husband Brian and me and Julianne, Christmas 2012

Joe with my sister Sherry, her husband Brian and me and Julianne, Christmas 2012

By the mid 2000s Julianne and I were becoming grandparents ourselves, which meant Joe was becoming a great grandfather. By this time, unbeknownst to us (and perhaps even himself), he was in the early stages of dementia.  Living in San Antonio, TX and working for Barnes and Noble, he had a lonely life. He had become almost hermitlike in existence and I could never get him to even notice that he had great grandchildren.  For a number of years I was bothered by his seeming indifference.  Finally, on a visit to Texas 2011, I was able to see his condition first hand.  And it has gotten worse since then.  But, thanks to my sister Sherry, we were blessed with a visit by her family, along with Dad, during the Christmas holiday in 2012. Joe finally got to see his great grandchildren for the first time…all nine of them at that time (there are 10 now)

Joe with his great grandchildren, plus his granddaughter Savannah (Sherry's daughter) in Dec. 2012

Joe with his great grandchildren, plus his granddaughter Savannah (Sherry’s daughter) in Dec. 2012

Four generations of Kravetz...a rare photo - Seth, Rockwell, David and Joe... Dec. 2012

Four generations of Kravetz…a rare photo – Seth, Rockwell, David and Joe… Dec. 2012

Joe with his then youngest great grandchild Benson Matthews in December 2012

Joe with his then youngest great grandchild Benson Matthews in December 2012

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz in 2014

Joe Kravetz in 2014

Between 2012 and 2014 I made a couple of other visits to Texas and had occasion to see my Dad.  Once was another Kravetz family reunion in Galveston. Joe had become more aloof and unkempt and, for the first time in my recollection, had actually grown a beard.

His teeth were cracked, his toenails were long.  His memory was going (and still is). But he did look classy in a beard, in all honesty.

A selfie with Dad taken in Keller, Texas in July 2014

A selfie with Dad taken in Keller, Texas in July 2014

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

Now, as he turns 82, he is in a nursing home. A few months ago he fell (not the first time) and this time destroyed his hips.  He is probably laid up for the remainder of his life as the healing process is not going well. Sherry tells me he can watch TV but no longer knows how to use the remote to change the channel.  It is sad seeing someone essentially wither away.  My sister Sherry is to be praised for taking care of him the last decade or so.  But it got too hard.  He needed a watchful eye 24/7 and she couldn’t do that.

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

I am grateful to Joe Kravetz for all of the sacrifices he has made.  In many respects, he has had a challenging life, from the days of his youth through his three marriages, difficult children (at times) and then his health challenges.

I am certain that if not for him, I would not be where I am with my lovely wife of 36 years, my 5 awesome children and my 10 wonderful grandchildren.  None of that would have happened, at least not the way it is now, had it not been for him marrying my natural mother Orene and setting the ball in motion and then continuing on that path with Marge. Despite any differences and friction we may have had over the years, I can honestly say I love Dad, appreciate him and am grateful for his enduring spirit.  He has truly been a blessing in my life and I want the world to know.

Countdown 365: #335 The Simple Things Part 2

LittleThingsThere are times when I sit back and think of things I am grateful for that are typically overlooked…things that we consider normal parts of life…the little things.  These are the things we all take for granted…

Electricity, Plumbing, Windows, Cars, Heaters, Telephones, Houses, Clean Water, Soap

Let There Be LightHow often do we turn on a light switch expecting the lights to come on never thinking about the miracle electricity is?

RunningWater2What if you turned on the faucet and no water came flowing?  Do you ever think “such a blessing” for running, clean water?

WindowsIn America we have windows everywhere.  Glass is a simple blessing…but the windows we have are even more so.  They keep us warm, they keep us cool, they keep the bugs out, they provide lovely views of our outside world while protecting us.  When I visited China in 1991, all of the houses had “windows”, but these were just panels that opened…no glass windows.  Next time you look out a window, consider the simple blessing.

TelephoneSo, as I am writing this, the song Rings” comes on by Lobo… a song from the 70s.  And he says “Let the telephone ring.” (No Joke!! This happened to come on…love synchronicity).  Anyway, how many times have we picked up the phone (or the cell phone) to call someone. Have we considered the miracle of this kind of communication?  When we are away and miss our family, we pick up the phone and call.  Many in this world don’t have this blessing.  Next time you call the wife or the grandkidz or the pizza place, think about the blessings of the phone. (And as I wrote that the NEXT song to come on the iPod is Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” by U2 with the lyric “And it’s you when I look in the mirror, And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone, Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.” )

SoapSoap is another surefire miracle.  It cleanses us and refreshes us. But many in this world not only have to live with dirty water, but also have no soap to cleanse themselves with.  And in this age of a myriad of scented “Bath and Body Works” soaps as well as other kinds of scented soaps (including Bacon Scented Soap!), do we ever stop to consider these with gratitude?

Next time you flip a switch, turn a key, open a window, make a call, turn on the radio, tie a shoe….think about the blessings that these little simple things are

 

Countdown 365: #343 – Guitar Heroes 1 – Pete Huttlinger

(Editor’s Note: As I approach age 60, I am “Counting My Many Blessings” by doing a daily countdown from 365. These are in no particular order, but, as you will see in days following, there is a method to the madness.)

Pete1Over the past twenty years I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing musicians due to my long friendship with musician Antsy McClain. Through him I also met the amazing producer and music aficionado Eddie Mattiningly, who introduced me to some of these amazing musicians and people. These are phenomenal guitarists yet are not “all about themselves” as they are friendly, giving and caring.  Among these, there are a group I call my “guitar heroes.” Some of them I have not met, but most I have and with some of them I have been blessed to develop a friendly relationship.

Pete Huttlinger

Pete Huttlinger

The first of these I want to mention is Pete Huttlinger. I have had the amazing blessing of getting to know Pete and his wife Erin over the years. I first met them at a show in Elizabethtown, KY and actually did some videos of Pete, which I have on my YouTube site (one of which I have shared below).  Pete is one of those fine musicians who made others even better.  He toured the world with John Denver over the last four years of Denver’s life.  He has performed with LeAnn Rimes in many places around the world and on television.  Currently he also does some performances with John Oates of Hall and Oates.

But, he is also an amazing musician on his own.  He has released a number of albums including my favorite, McGuire’s Landing.  He has done an entire CD of Stevie Wonder tunes (including Superstition as can be seen in the video below – filmed and edited by Sumoflam Productions).

But, there is another less known side of Pete.  He is a survivor. About five years ago he had a major stroke that caused him to be paralyzed on his right side and rendered him speechless. He went through a scary surgery only to find that he had a defective heart.  His wife and many of his friends and fans prayed often for him and Erin stuck with him through thick and thin.  He is now back on the road performing and doing what he loves best…playing fantastic guitar licks to satisfy the musical hankerings of many like myself and entertaining those who attend his shows. His playing style is heart-warming.  His person is even more so.

JoinedAtThe HeartHe and Erin have recently published a book called “Joined at the Heart.” I have recently obtained a copy and can’t wait to read it.  The book is all about his struggle and the struggle of his dear wife Erin.  And, moreover, it is a love story — it is all about their joint effort in love and humor to overcome the dire adversity that they faced.  I know it will be inspirational and uplifting.

Pete is a survivor.  Erin is a survivor.  And I am grateful for their acquaintance and the inspiration they provide — even more than the heart-soothing sounds of Pete’s amazing musical talents.

Knowing them is a true blessing in my life.

Countdown 365: #346 – Falling for Fall

DSC_7238Honestly, fall is my favorite time of year.  Maybe it is because I was born in October.  Maybe its because the temperatures are cooling down to the fifties. But, most likely it is because of the change of the season, the striking colors (at least in Kentucky) and the eye candy that the colors bring. Joy points. Nature’s soup for the soul.

Last Sunday, October 25, I took a drive in the countryside early in the morning. All of the photos on this post were taken then. So, you can get a glimpse of one day of fall.

I consider myself blessed to be living DSC_7289in Kentucky. I am thankful to live in a neighborhood that is just minutes away from the pastoral settings of the famous Overbrook and Juddmonte farms, two of Kentucky’s famed thoroughbred horse farms.

There are many scenic byways surrounding Lexington, and the Delong Road/Walnut Hill Road area is one of the best.  Just five minutes from my house I can be driving down Delong Road and witnessing the beauty of the rolling DSC_7277hills surrounded by the black plank fences of the horse farms.  Any time of year is great to get away and do this.  But fall is by far the most amazing time to do so.

The drives on these two lane roads make me slow down and visually, as well as emotionally, take it all in.  The Grand Canyon, the Tetons, Glacier National Park…all of these may be breathtaking, but the simplicity of the fall colors lining the black plank fences is just as breathtaking to me.

DSC_7287DSC_7285DSC_7267DSC_7264DSC_7259DSC_7280DSC_7279DSC_7260DSC_7297I also enjoy looking at the colorful leaves up close.  From a distance they all look the same, but, on closer inspection, each one is like a snowflake.  They each have their own hues of red, yellow, brown and orange.  They have blemishes. They are different sizes and shapes. Another great example to me of nature’s complex simplicity. I am certain that our kind Father in Heaven created this time of season for us to take time to reflect upon the richness of this earth that we live in.  Its a time to have wonder in His grand creations.

DSC_7262DSC_7246DSC_7248DSC_7305DSC_7231Then there are the little surprises.  As I drove around the back country and snapped photos, I missed a few things.  In editing and reviewing my photos before I wrote this, I notices something interesting on the tree.  On closer inspection I discovered that a little frog had photobombed my autumn leave shot.  Can you find the little critter in the photo below?  Chock up another joy point!

Notice the frog on the tree

Notice the frog on the tree

DSC_7233Even driving the neighborhoods of Lexington, I can find some great scenic beauty.

The city is blessed with a variety of trees and thus an astounding array of colors dots the neighborhoods.

Every October my excitement grows as I wait for the two big trees just a couple of blocks from our house to explode in their yellows and oranges. They are delightful.

DSC_7230FallTreesDSC_7301DSC_7303Indeed, I am grateful for fall colors.  They are a blessing to my life each year.

Countdown 365: #349 – Challenges as Blessings

Craters of the Moon drive June 2013Everyone faces challenges in life. We all have different struggles whether they be with health, family, jobs, relationships, finances, addictions or other things.  Struggles come with the territory. Life offers few straight paths and so we meander on our way and learn as we go.

 

yinyangIn my college days I spent many semesters studying Asian history, geography and philosophy.  Perhaps one of the greatest things I learned was the Taoist principle of Yin/Yang.  Defined, Yin/Yang indicates two halves that together complete wholeness. Yin and yang are also the starting point for change. When something is whole, by definition it is unchanging and complete. So when you split something into two halves – yin / yang, it upsets the equilibrium of wholeness. This starts both halves chasing after each other as they seek a new balance with each other.

YiinYangTreeThe word Yin comes out to mean “shady side” and Yang “sunny side”. Yin/Yang is the concept of duality forming a whole. We encounter examples of Yin and Yang every day. As examples: night (Yin) and day (Yang), female (Yin) and male (Yang). Over thousands of years quite a bit has been sorted and grouped under various Yin Yang classification systems.

The symbol for Yin Yang is called the Taijitu. Most people just call it the yin yang symbol in the west. The taijitu symbol has been found in more than one culture and over the years has come to represent Taoism.

OddWaynopressurenodiamondI count myself fortunate to have challenges…and believe me, I have a bucket full of them.  Oft times we have no idea why we have them, but I have learned in my 59 years of life that they mold me. They make me better. I have determined that our challenges are like the pressure that coal goes through to become a glittering diamond. No pressure, no diamonds.

Sometimes challenges aren't fun

Sometimes challenges aren’t fun

Sunny

I Saw The Light

So, I chose many years to take the Yin with the Yang. Though miserable at times, I try to smile and get through it, because I KNOW there is something to be learned, something to be gained.  Life provides enlightenment in the long run.

Indeed, not all blessings are the bright and happy ones.  Some MUST be the dark ones in order to have balance. That job loss may actually lead to a better opportunity.  That rough ride will eventually lead to a smooth road. That bump on the head will go away.

I count my challenges as blessings.  Bring ’em on universe.  I am ready!

SmoothChallenge

Countdown 365: #351 – Luxurious Life

RollsRoyceIn the quest for counting my many blessings, I count my “luxurious life” as one big one.  Luxury is certainly a matter of perspective. One definition of “luxury” found at dictionary.com notes: free or habitual indulgence in or enjoyment of comforts and pleasures in addition to those necessary for a reasonable standard of well-being

A real luxury actually

A real luxury actually

Most of us in the United States have grown up enjoying the benefits of electricity, running water, flushing toilets, windows, cars, etc.  Our perspective on luxury typically means things like driving a Lexus instead of a Toyota, living in a nice house instead of an apartment, wearing diamonds instead of cubic zirconia. We think of people like Donald Trump or famous models, singers and actors in their luxurious mansions, jetset lifestyles and extravagant vacations as living a life of luxury and that we just live the “middle class” life.  Some of us see our neighbor’s boats or riding lawnmowers as “luxury items” and wish we could have the same.

Walpi, AZ on the Hopi Reservation.  Yes, people still live this way, even in the US

Walpi, AZ on the Hopi Reservation. Yes, people still live this way, even in the US

But, as I count my blessings, I can see the flip side.  I can see that I actually do have a life of luxury.  While in college in Flagstaff, I worked as a tour guide and took many people out to the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations. These tourists were fascinated by the lives of the Hopi high up on a mesa in the middle of the desert.  They lived without running water or electricity.  Their “bathrooms” were wooden outhouses that clung precariously on the edge of the cliff. These tourists also found the Navajo lifestyle to be unique as many were still residing in the circular mud huts known as “hogans”.  They too had no running water or electricity.

Navajo Hogan

Navajo Hogan

A boy climbs a ladder to his "home" after bathing in the dirty river.  I took this photo in Cebu.

A boy climbs a ladder to his “home” after bathing in the dirty river. I took this photo in Cebu.

In the mid-2000s I spent a few weeks in Cebu, in the Philippines. During this time I gained a whole new perspective on luxury.  Indeed, many Filipinos have nice cars and nice places to live, but the majority do not.  They see the average American as rich and living a life of luxury.  We are all billionaires in their eyes. I also saw the massive poverty where people lived clumped together in squatter’s villages built out of corrugated metal and wooden posts.  They bathed in dirty rivers. They had no beds or windows.

Lifes-little-luxuriesAs I said, luxury is a matter of perspective.  I am thankful to turn on a switch and have light.  I count it a blessing to turn a handle and have warm water flowing from a shower. I look at my fairly inexpensive hot tub as a luxury item in my household.

I enjoy life’s little luxuries.  I don’t need a yacht.  I don’t need a vacation home on an island. I have sufficient.  I am blessed.  I am content. I am grateful.

I am content.

I am content.

Countdown 365: #364 – The First Day of the Rest of My Life

(Editor’s Note: As I approach age 60, I am “Counting My Many Blessings” by doing a daily countdown from 365. These are in no particular order, but, as you will see in days following, there is a method to the madness.)

BabyPicSince I was born on October 4, 1956 (with the birth name of Carmen David Laurienzo), the REAL first full day of my life took place on October 5, 1956.  It only follows that my note of thanks…my blessing for this day…would be to express gratitude to my natural mother and father. I was born into an Italian household in Cleveland, OH.  My father, Joseph Laurienzo (2Mar35 – 2Dec92) was 21 and my mother, Orene Goldberg (8Apr39), a Jewish girl from Albuquerque was 17.  They were young.  She had been sent to Cleveland to go to a girl’s boarding school.  Joe’s family were Italian immigrants.  His father and mother had come by ship and then moved to Cleveland in the Murray Hill section, which is now called Little Italy.  Joe was born in the same home I was born in.  The families were close knit.

Orene and Joe ca. 1956

Orene and Joe ca. 1956 (before I was born)

The home I was born into on Murray Hill Rd. in Cleveland, OH. This was taken about 1956

The home I was born into on Murray Hill Rd. in Cleveland, OH. This was taken about 1956

My grandfather Carmen Laurienzo with my father Joe when he was a child. Not sure when this was taken...maybe the 1940s?

My grandfather Carmen Laurienzo with my father Joe when he was a child. Not sure when this was taken…maybe the 1940s?

I am pretty certain that I was brought into a loving home and that my parents cared about me.  But, after almost a year, Orene’s parents forced her to move back to Albuquerque with me.  I never saw my real father again and, in fact, I never knew who he was until around the summer of 1974 when I had a chance to visit Orene, who had left me years before (I was adopted by my step parents in the early 1960s). I got to call Joe and speak with him…the only time I was able to.  But, I am grateful for that.

As a baby in Cleveland

As a baby in Cleveland

JoeLThe first time I had ever even seen what he looked like was when he sent me the photo to the right as I prepared to go on a mission. I still have the letters he wrote me while I served as a missionary in Japan.

Ultimately, I am grateful to have a knowledge of my posterity on my father’s side.  The family came from Matrice, in the CampoBasso region of Italy. I am sure there must be relatives there even today.

JoeLObitI first came to Kentucky in 1992 and while here I had hoped to get up to Cleveland to finally see my real father.  Sadly, by 1993, when I first had a good chance, he had already passed on.  I have visited his grave site on a couple of occasions and have since met with my sisters and brother and have a good relationship with my long lost family.

As for my mother Orene, she left me when I was about 4 and I did not see her again until I was about 18.  We have had an on and off relationship over the years, but that debt of gratitude for her bringing me into this world will always be there.  I actually spoke to her for the first time in years on my birthday yesterday.  She is now 78 and living in an assisted care facility in California.  She was alert, she shed tears of regret and tears of joy through the conversation.

With my natural mother Orene in 1976 in Murray, UT

With my natural mother Orene in 1976 in Murray, UT

By the 1980s Orene had changed her name to Jennierose Lavender.  She had a number of issues with life, but still wanted to have a relationship with her children and grandchildren.  Though my wife and I were not in agreement with her chosen lifestyle, we have never kept our children from communicating with their natural grandmother.

With my half brother Aaron and my mother in the 1980s.

With my half brother Aaron and my mother in the 1980s.

As her days wane, I committed to her to once again renew my relationship by calling on Sundays.  She is my mother.  She carried me for nine months and brought me into this world.  Despite all of the challenges and the journey she took, I owe her the gratitude for her sacrifices on my behalf and owe her the love and care in her last few years of life.

That is the real path to gratitude.

Countdown 365: Count Your Many Blessings

Birthday pic with some of the grandkidz

Birthday pic with some of the grandkidz

Today I turned 59.  Only 365 days from the big Six-O,  This has been the cause of reflection and gratitude for me over the last few days as I think back on the abundant life I have had in this 59 years of life.  To me, abundance is not money, but is life experiences, family, the country I live in and general happiness. Life’s been good to me so far.

I once read that “It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy.” That is the Attitude of Gratitude that I have chosen to live by and over the next 365 days I want to post one item of gratitude a day that can show why I am happy.

GratitudeAs a new member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) back in 1975, I learned many hymns that were new to me.  One of the best of these is called “Count Your Blessings” (lyrics and music here) with words by Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922). He was a prolific hymn writer. He has written over three thousand hymns, and no gospel song book is considered as being complete unless it contains some of his hymns. The music for the hymn was written by Edwin O. Excell (1851-1921), another prolific writer.  This hymn is an inspiration to me, especially in difficult times.  And so, based on this, I want to literally count them and name them one by one.

CountYourBlessingsLifeIsGoodToday, on my 59th birthday, I express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for all the many blessings in my life. As is the case with almost all people, our life’s journeys take us into glorious places, deep and scary abysses and lonely plains. We travel the journey with many others and sometimes we travel it alone. I have taken this 59 year journey with the guidance and partnership of my Father in Heaven and his Son, my Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. It has not been easy, but it has been abundant.

I hope you will follow me on my Gratitude journey this next 365 days!