27 to 40: The Amazing Mother

(Author Note:  Due to an extended road trip, busy work schedule and more, I have missed out on two weeks of posting.  Sadly, I will not be able to add those in, but hope to continue on from Day 27 to Day 1…the last remaining days before our 40th Anniversary on July 15).

Julianne always wanted to be a mother.  From our very first discussion about the possibility of marriage, she would always relish the thought of being a mother.  And, what a wonderful mother she was (and still is!). We had our first three children in our first four years of marriage.  We had all five before our 10th anniversary. Today all five of our children are in their 30s and are well engaged in their lives.  Much of their success in life can be directly attributed to their sweet and wonderful mother.

Julianne and David with first daughter Amaree on a winter hike near the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff, AZ 1980

Julianne with Amaree and Marissa in 1981

Mothering was Julianne’s passion (until she became a grandmother….).  It wasn’t always easy for her. Due to my school and work, she had to carry much of the load herself.  But, she was an absolute trooper and loved and took care of her children with passion and fervor.

Taking care of children in Japan. She is with Seth and Marissa here.

By the time we had three daughters, Julianne was making matching dresses for Easter, doing girl things with them, teaching them music, making them feel loved.

Julianne and me with our first three…all girls..(L to R) Amaree, Chelsea and Marissa

Eventually, the boys came along, presenting new challenges, but Julianne took those with gusto.  Much of Seth’s early life was in Japan and Solomon was actually born there. So, Julianne learned to shuffle her schedule (she taught English, took kids for TV Commercial filmings, etc.) to make everything work.  Despite the many frustrations of living in a foreign country with language and cultural obstacles, Julianne pulled things off like a pro!

Kravetz Family ca. 1991, taken in Oita, Japan

My Wonderful Family – 1993 – visiting Monument Valley

Family 2009

As our children grew through their teen years and married (all three daughters were married within 6 weeks of each other in 2005!), Julianne has evolved from a mother to an adult friend with her children, especially her daughters.

Julianne with our five children on my 60th birthday in 2016

I am massively blessed to have had the opportunity to marry such a wonderful woman who so cherished her role as a mother and wife and now loves being a grandmother.  All of our children are talented and leaders in their various life activities. They can thank their mother for this!

 

55 to 40: The Violinist

Julianne has an assortment of talents, many which I’ll cover in later posts. Perhaps one of her most recognized talents is her finesse at the violin.

I remember with fondness hearing her play “Meditation “ by Thais every time we would visit her home in Mesa.  It was her Dad’s favorite and has become one of mine as well.  Indeed, in my mind, it is Julianne’s Theme Song.

Julianne grew up in a family that emphasized music and began the violin in the fourth grade. By high school she was a very talented violinist and,.  She was in the Mesa Symphony.  She went on to Northern Arizona University on a music scholarship.  Later, she played in the Mormon Youth Symphony and the Utah Valley Symphony in Provo, Utah.  It was during her time in these two that I met and eventually married this talented musician.

Julianne playing violin for daughters Amaree and Marissa in the 1980s. Featured in a newspaper in Mesa, AZ

Julianne has played violin for many family, church and social functions

We eventually moved to Flagstaff, where I attended college.and Julianne was able to play in the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. Ironically, at that time, a violinist named Daniel Mason was the concertmaster. In the 1990s, after moving to Kentucky, it turns out that Daniel Mason had become an Associate Professor of Violin at UK and Julianne took lessons from him.  Such a unique small world it is!

Julianne performing with her daughters, including Chelsea on the violin.  Christmas 1999

Due to Julianne’s love of music and the arts, her talents have carried on to two generations as her children have taken on musical talents and then passed them down to their children as well. Our oldest daughter Amaree graduated from UK with a music degree and is now conducting choirs and teaching piano in Washington. Marissa was an All-State Singer. Chelsea played the violin in high school and has since taught herself guitar and piano. Seth performed in choir in high school and was in the men’s choir at UK. He too has taught himself guitar. Solomon also has a fine singing voice, though his real talent was art (as was Marissa’s).

Amaree conducting a combined choir in 2019 honoring Armed Services Day — the LDS Stake Choir from her stake, the Unitarian Universalist Choir and the men of the West Sound Chorus

Our oldest grandchild played the Saxophone in the Fayette County Middle School Honors Band and will be in the bands in High School beginning in 2019

And, as mentioned above, many of our grandchildren carry on traditions as singers, a violinist, a cellist, a percussionist and a saxophone player. Two of the grandchildren also perform with the Lexington ballet.

Our oldest grandchild Autumn has taken up the saxophone (and Grampz is happy about that since he too was a sax player).  She has thrived.
Amaree’s three oldest are all becoming talented musicians as they each perform well on their respective instruments.
I credit this love of music and the arts to my sweetheart who has sought to engage her children at every opportunity.
Indeed, I am honored, blessed and grateful to be married to such a talented musician who has dedicated much of her life in nurturing a love of music to her children and grandchildren.  This was an unforeseen blessing in my life.

Amaree’s three oldest – Kade on percussion, Livvy on violin and Charles on Cello.

Marissa’s daughter Joselyn has thrived in ballet and has performed with the professional Lexington Ballet Troupe for nearly five years.

Marissas youngest, Lyla, is also now beginning ballet and performed in the Lexington Ballet Nutcracker in 2018

 

56 to 40: The Cool Caring Grandmother

OK.  Julianne has DEAGED over the last few years.  Seems like each year she gets a year younger.  Many would be surprised that she is the grandmother of ten lovely grandchildren.  She cares about these sweet children so much.  She always wants to kiss their sweet cheeks!  She is such a COOL grandmother!

When were married in 1979, little did we know what would lay ahead on our journey.  We had hoped for a few children (we were blessed with five).  We even dreamed of having grandchildren, though a specific  number was never in our mind.  I would always just say “Children are like arrows, happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”

With the Matthews grandchildren (L-R: Benson, Livvy, Kade and Charles)

Julianne got to experience her first grandchild while she was in her forties.  She now   has TEN, and they are probably one of the biggest joys in her life.  She has a HUGE place in her heart for them and loves each one dearly.  She has an endless amount of kisses and hugs and smiles for them.

For this particular post, I am just going to let the photos below tell the story about this woman of love and care.  Obviously, words can’t describe the feelings like the photos do.  She is truly the Coolest grandmother around.

Fun with the Noe grandchildren…Lyla, Jos and Landen

Having a ball with Rockwell Kravetz

Always kissing those sweet cheeks – with Landen Noe

Snuggling with Sam Kravetz

Always there for her oldest grandchild Autumn Crabtree

Love….

Caring is being there….

Who needs an amusement ride? Lyla loving her swinging time

Kissing sweet cheeks again…this time with Benson Matthews

Sam and RockE like cuddling with Grandma

Sometimes the grandkids kiss Grandma’s Sweet Cheeks!

Nothing look a good snuggle with Livvy Matthews

Fun on the South Carolina coast

One of her favorite photos…Julianne with young Autumn

 

60 to 40: Let the Countdown Begin!

I have been waiting almost a year for this day. It is officially 60 days away from my 40th anniversary of marriage to my sweetheart Julianne.

What a momentous time for us! The past 40 years have brought so many wonderful blessings into our lives and offered us so many wonderful opportunities to grow closer and to learn about life and love. I have cherished every moment, even the difficult and challenging times.

Over the next 59 days, I plan to post a different outlook on my sweet wife and what I cherish most about having been with her for 40 years. It has been a wonderful journey and I hope that it continues on for much longer.

Julianne and David – May 2019

All I want to say in this post, is that it has been a ride! In 40 years we have had five wonderful children, all of whom are, at the time of this writing, in their 30s. Four of our children have married and we have, through them, 10 wonderful and talented grandchildren, including two teenagers! In our 40 years we have lived in nine different cities, including four years in Oita, Japan. Both Julianne and I have had a variety of jobs, some full-time and some part-time over the years. Over the next 59 posts I will mention some of those as well. During the course of our marriage, we have owned 10 different cars, we have lived in 13 different houses and/or apartments, we have traveled all over the country both with our family and together as a couple. In 45 days from now we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of moving into the house that we currently reside in.

Through the ups and downs, the challenges and successes, the difficult times in the joyful times, ours has been an abundant journey. For this I can’t my blessings. I hope you will follow us over the course of the next 59 days as I spend a portion of each day celebrating The absolute love of my life, the woman and friend who is stuck with me through thick and thin over these 40 years.

Looking Back 45 Years – Setting the Course of My Life

Chicago VII – Released March 11, 1974

A couple of days ago I was listening to the album Chicago VII, which is one of my all-time favorite compilations of music, and certainly my favorite Chicago album. The album represented a change in direction for the group as they added a few more jazzier tones to the typical rock that they had.  In fact, that summer I got to see them in concert — my first-ever opportunity.

I have listened to this album well over one hundred times, but the other day was different.  From the onset of the first three tracks (all instrumental) I was taken back to shortly after my graduation and my mind was flooded with old memories and images, many which I had forgotten about.  It was really a strange, strange feeling.  As each song from this double album set played, more memories came.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed and by the time the album had completed, I realized that the two years of my life between graduation in 1974 and my departing on a mission to Japan for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1976 were probably the most fragile, tempestuous and most formative years of my life…even to this day in May 2019, 45 years later.

Graduation from Murray High School in Utah in 1974

In May 1974, I graduated from Murray High School in Murray, Utah. It was the first event of my life that both of my parents attended.  As exciting and fresh as that even was, earlier events from the previous two years were leading to what would become a number of major turning points in my life and really would alter the direction of it.  As early as the winter of 1972, when the family lived in Bozeman, Montana and I was a junior in high school, I was becoming frustrated with the life around me.  The family was dysfunctional, I was having to make new friends (this was my fifth school in five years) and I didn’t feel like a part of the family.  I ran away from home twice that year, once as a trial run, hitchhiking my way to Billings and then finally choosing to go all out and head to Denver, as a 16 year old. That little trick ended up getting me thrown in a juvenile detention center overnight in Denver. But that is another story.

Me in 1974…age 18

At the same time, I was searching for meaning in life.  To be frank, I was a good kid.  Never smoked, never drank, never did pot (and this was the 70s!).  These were self-induced decisions, not religious ones.  Yes, my adoptive mother Marge was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness at the time and I reluctantly attended with the family, but that really had no bearing my abstinence from these things.  I just wasn’t interested. I got high listening to good music and reading fantasy and science fiction novels.  But, I was also searching for some meaning in life.  I believed in a God, but not the definition of the Jehovah’s Witness God.  I have written about my religious leanings and LDS conversion in other posts. (See THIS POST as an example)

Mom and Dad ca. 1974

All of this led up to our move to the Salt Lake City area in the summer of 1973.  Once again, I had to attend a new school, make new friends and adjust again. I was very fortunate to have fallen into a group of friends that were great examples to me and honestly cared about me. To this day I am grateful for that. But high school was still difficult for me.  I was a non-Mormon in a predominantly Mormon (LDS) community and all of my friends at Murray were mostly LDS.  I was definitely interested in the religion and was even taking an institute class…chiefly to learn more about the LDS interpretation of who God was.  But I was still confused.  I was depressed about my family situation…the dysfunction had gotten worse and the discord between my adoptive mother and my adoptive father Joe Kravetz had increased (and by 1977 they had divorced).  I had a lust for life and thus was not suicidal, but I needed some help.  By the second semester of high school I was seeing a counselor.  They gave me an IQ test and I scored very high.  Funny…that changed a great deal of my outlook.  I was smarter than the average bear.  I finished the last semester with almost straight A’s as a result.  But, what I didn’t see coming was the massive tempest of REAL LIFE drama that would happen shortly after high school was done.

Working at Skaggs with on of my friends.

While in high school I had a job as a clerk at the Camera Department for Skaggs Drug Store in Murray.  I loved the job.  I got to interact with all kinds of people and I got to sell cameras and things.  And, the clerks in the Camera Depart were also responsible for the Record and Tape Department…and I was (and still am) quite the music lover.

It was good to have a job and some income.  I was saving for a car and had some spending money to by record albums which I would listen to in my basement bedroom late at night.  That was my escape.  My happy place.

By June of 1974, I had expressed an interest in joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My parents were not happy with that at all. In the 1970s many considered the Mormons to be a cult, and my adoptive parents were in that group.  In June I was basically told to leave the house because my parents did not want me influencing my siblings with this strange religious philosophy, despite my Dad knowing many of the members and the local Bishop pretty well.  And thus the storm had begun.  I was welcome to come over to the house and visit, as long as church was not brought up, but I had to move out on my own.  I was still 17 and was already having to find a place to live, pay rent and become an adult really fast.  My job helped, but I needed more.  Fortunately, my friendly persona and interest in music had managed to make an influence on Alan Ferguson, one of the managers for Alta Distributing Company, the group that managed the record and tape distribution for Skaggs and dozens of other large retail outlets.  One day, as I perused the new releases, Alan came up to me.  He knew I was on my own and that I needed something more than a part-time job.  He told me that they were looking for someone who could be on the road for them five days a week to fill the record racks in stores in Price and Vernal, Utah and also in Rock Springs and Evanston, Wyoming.  They would provide me with a van, which I could also use for personal use since I didn’t have a car.  It was a dream job for this young 17 year old music lover.

After a couple of weeks of training, I was on the road driving a white Dodge van filled with music and loving every minute of it.  I was staying in hotels four nights a week, eating at good restaurants and driving on long drives with music blaring in the background.  I soon made friends in some of the towns that I stayed in each week and would spend evenings with them.

Best friend Jonathan Jensen, who baptized me. This was him in 1976 just after I returned from my mission.

In the meantime, I was having to wait until October before I could consider being baptized into the church.  It was not until January 1975 before I was able to get baptized. My best friend Jonathan Jensen baptized me shortly before he left on his LDS Mission to Sweden.

Soon, all of my friends were leaving on missions.  As for me, as a fledgling member of the church and one who was struggling to live on his own, Jonathan’s family became my family.  I would visit there often, or visit my other friend, Russ Graves, at his house.

Not long after that, a family in the Murray 20th Ward, the Thomas family, knew that I needed something more stable and “family like” and offered me a room in their home.  They lived across the street from the Jensens and were only two blocks from my family, so it was a nice arrangement.

With the Thomas Family and a friend (Byron) in Feb. 1976

The Thomas family was a good example to me and something I needed.  But, I also needed someone my age.

Penny Strong as she looked in 1976

I believe it was at a Stake dance that I met Penny Strong, a senior in high school from Cottonwood High School. I honestly don’t recall how we met.  But, what I do remember, is that she became like a sister to me.  Yes, I was interested in a girlfriend, but I had never had one.  But, somehow, my relationship with Penny was so much more than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.  In fact, I can still recall how often I would confide in her and her family.  They were the final cementing agent I needed to remain happy and well.  Ultimately, Penny was the person that gave me strength when I needed it.  Her father Wayne was a good man and would always give me good advice.  She had an older sister that was there as well.  To me, Penny was a Godsend to a young man that was struggling to keep a good direction in his life. I will always be grateful to Penny for being there for me.

But my struggles weren’t over.  I was a hustler.  I was a people person.  Even back in the 1970s, I had never met a stranger.  These characteristics helped me immensely in my work for Alta Distributing.  Sales in Price and Vernal increased nearly 300% in my year and a half.  So much so that Alta had decided they were going to open a record store in Price and, at the age of 18, they offered me the role of managing the store at a salary of $30,000, which was, to me, a mind-blowing amount of money.  I thought about all of the things I could do.  And, I would be in the music business still.

But, one obstacle remained in my mind.  As a member of the church I would be able to serve an LDS mission.  All of my good friends were off on theirs by this time.  Yet, I had not even been a member for one year.  I was lost in my decision making.  I would discuss this situation — good job and good future vs. two years of sacrifice and serving the Lord.  I would talk about this with Penny, the Thomas family, Bishop Jensen, etc.

Ironically, I had submitted my mission papers sometime in November 1975, not even a member for a year at that time.  It seemed like I had to wait an eternity for my mission call.  Alta had made the job offer to me on a Monday or Tuesday in mid-December, near Christmas.  They were banking on me accepting the job.  And I was seriously considering it. By that Friday, they said they needed to move on the store and needed an answer by the next Monday morning.  And, as luck would have it, I got my mission call on Saturday in the mail…  Nagoya Japan.  Leaving in February 1976. So, I was left with the mentally grueling task of making a VERY MAJOR life decision on a Sunday…basically had about 36 hours to make this decision…Mission or Record Shop?  And the tough thing was that nobody could answer me.  Either decision would have been a “righteous” and good decision.

I knew that I had come to a crossroads in my life.  I knew that whatever decision I would make…indeed, the toughest decision I had ever made in my short 19 years of life…would set the course and direction of my life. (And, little did I know how very true that would be!!).  Honestly, I think had I gotten a mission call to the United States, I may have decided on the job.  But, the wanderlust in me.  The adventurous heart in me, looked at Japan as a wonderful challenge and opportunity.

My Passport Picture in 1976

In the end, I chose to serve a mission to Japan.  Monday morning at Alta did NOT go well.  In one fell swoop I went from the good graces as an all-star in the company, to basically a company reject.  They pulled me from the route I was doing and put me on a local, less attractive route in Salt Lake City.  They said that they would consider hiring me back when I returned from my mission, but couldn’t promise anything, and certainly the store option was out of the question.

I was brokenhearted.  I had worked so hard.  I was not sure what the Japan mission would do for my future, but I moved on with faith.  I learned the language and served faithfully, as well as I could, as a one-year convert.

In conclusion, that two year period BEFORE I departed on my mission to Japan (ages 17-19) was my first true trial by fire. Did I make the right decisions?  I will never know for sure, but I think I did in the long run.  The Japan mission for me really set the course of my life as I have had many jobs that were directly a result of my language skills. Now, in 2019, as I approach my 40th anniversary of my marriage to my sweet wife Julianne, I can look back on all of the richness (not in terms of money, but in terms of experiences) my life has given me — five children, ten grandchildren, friends all around the world, amazing travel experiences and a propensity to be happy despite any circumstances.  And my heart is filled with gratitude, especially to those wonderful folks mentioned above that were there for me in my time of need back then.

Did you know I have a couple of books published?  These two books are about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips. You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Working on Book 3, hopefully coming in late Spring 2019!!

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 5: Gratitude for Friends

Most of us have friends. Some may be very close and others may just be casual acquaintances. Friends can almost feel like family at times. Over the years I’ve had some very close friends and friends that gave me a feeling of belonging.  But, one thing many say about me…  I have never met a stranger.

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico

The first friend I can recall was back in Albuquerque around 1964, when I was about eight years old. For about three years I was friends with a boy named Ricky Fetterer. I would walk down to his house every morning and watch cartoons (we liked watching The Mighty Hercules — even today I can recall the theme song).  After that was over, we would walk to school together, about a quarter-mile from his house. He certainly was, at that time, my best friend. One day they moved away to Kansas or Missouri or someplace like that. I was brokenhearted that I had lost my best friend. But, it was not soon thereafter that we too left Albuquerque and headed east to live in Richardson, Texas.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966 in Richardson, Texas

In Richardson, the neighborhood we lived in had a few kids and so I became friends with them and we played football and catch and things like that together, but I never really had the chance to grow close to them as we were only there for about a year and a half. I don’t even recall names or faces. I can recall playing football in the front yard and, as I try to look at the faces, all I see are blurs. In fact, over the years of my youth, I never did have another close friend like Ricky until I got to my senior year in high school.

Joe Kravetz during his Skaggs Days in Denver, CO around 1969

You see, my father worked for Skaggs Drug and we moved quite often. From 1968 through 1974 I attended three different elementary schools, two junior high schools and three different high schools.  During that period we lived in Dallas, Denver, Great Falls, Bozeman and finally Murray, Utah. Did I have some friends? Of course I did. I had friends from band, friends from other clubs, friends from extra-curricular activities. But none were really all that close. And, I think that besides the relative short times in each place, another part of the problem was that I always tried too hard to make friends. I was known for bragging and boasting in an effort to impress. That was one of the downsides of moving so much and thus it led to a lack of self-confidence.

 

Here I am working with some of the Bozeman Yearbook staff in 1973. Sheila, Melody, Sharon and Joyce. I was contacted by one of them a via Facebook a couple of years ago when they came across this photo.

I find it ironic that in this day of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, that I have been able to renew relationships with people from my old high school days. As we correspond and look at each other’s Facebook we have grown closer despite distance. And that has been an interesting and blessed part of life.  I am grateful for how something like Facebook can open up formerly closed doors.

Intramural Basketball team members at Bozeman Senior High back in 1973. I was the player/coach for one of the teams.  That’s me, third from left in back row.

A recent photo of my Bozeman friend Bud, who now lives in Colorado.

Just a few days ago I was contacted by a friend of mine from Bozeman Senior High School named Bud Herzog. That is one person who I still remember from the days of my junior year in high school. We caught up through Instagram and then eventually spoke on the phone for about an hour to reminisce about old times, old friends and acquaintances. It was refreshing to reestablish a long last relationship I had over 40 years ago.

 
As I noted above, I really forged a couple of close relationships with friends during my senior year in high school in Murray, Utah. I guess a number of things led to that opportunity to make those friends. First, having moved into a predominantly LDS/Mormon community, and having a desire to seek more about it because of a chance meeting I had in Bozeman just the previous summer.  A girl from Summit, NJ and her family were there and introduced me to the church and gave me a Book of Mormon. So, while I was registering for my senior year, I decided to take seminary class  (very common in large LDS communities such as Salt Lake City and Mesa, Arizona) and it was through seminary that I met some of the individuals that would eventually become my very close friends. And it turned out that they lived in the same neighborhood that I did. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the church’s boundaries, but, as it turns out, I lived in the same ward boundaries as these guys did. So, it seems that all of the chips fell into the same bowl to create the perfect opportunity to forge new friendships.
 
Obviously, I still had the problems talking about myself and had spoken highly of my previous years in Montana thus leading to my Murray-based nickname of “Monty Montana“ during my senior year of high school. There were a few guys who befriended me and made my life a little better, In fact, a lot better.  But, back then I was always “Monty” to them.
 

Jonathan Jensen as he looked in high school in 1974

I became close friends with five or six of these guys. Perhaps the most prominent of them were the two I grew closest to as friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russell Graves. We remain close friends even to this day. Both Jonathan and Russ lived just a couple of blocks from me and I spent a lot of time at their homes, getting to know their families, their parents, etc.  In fact, I was probably at their places more than my own house.  And as I drew near to joining the church, I also became very close to Jonathan‘s father Boyd Jensen, who at the time was the Bishop of the Murray 20th Ward. Bishop Jensen became almost like a second father to me and I so strongly desired to have a family like they had because, as I have noted in previous blog posts, my family situation was not the best.

 

Murray 20th Ward Young Adult basketball team in 1975 (Dale Simper is front left, next to me)

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort in Utah in 2016

Through my activities in the ward, specifically participating in their sports programs — softball, volleyball and basketball, I grew closer to many of these guys. And as a senior in high school, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Jonathan and Russell and a few of the other guys were all part of the basketball team and/or the football team. They were all popular in school. And here I was, a virtual nobody — a braggadocious “Monty Montana”, being embraced with friendship buy these guys. That truly helped open the door for other friendships. And for that I have always been very grateful because, honestly, I think that it saved my life.

 
 

Visiting Russ at his home in Murray, Utah in 2016

I spent a lot of time at Jonathan and Russ’s houses. And usually, it wasn’t just me and Russ or me and Jonathan, but all three of us and often times more of our friends including John Janssen, Dale Simper, and a few others.

Jonathan, Russ and also Dale, have remained close friends over the years. Every time I visit the Salt Lake area, we all get together and reminisce of good times and just spend time learning about each other‘s current lives… What is up with all of their children and my children, talk about grandchildren, talk about jobs. These guys have always been there for me and I am so grateful to them. In many respects, they’re almost like family to me.
 

Visiting my friends Russ, Jonathan and Dale in the summer of 2018 in Murray, Utah

Glen Krebs has been a very close friend. He officiated at one of my daughters’ weddings in this photo

Funny thing is that, through them, I was introduced to another Murray grad when I came to Kentucky.  Glen Krebs graduated the year before me and went on his LDS mission to Japan as well.  Most of my friends were either friends with him or knew him well.  When I first came to Kentucky for job interviews, I was able to stay at Glen’s house.  We have since become very close.  I have done work for him.  His wife and mine both went to the same high school in Mesa, Arizona and we even share the same wedding anniversary date of July 15!!  Like Jonathan and Russ, Glen has always been there to help get me through the difficult challenges of life when I needed him to.

 

Glen is also an avid supporter of my writing and books. I signed my most recent copy for him here. (We are also both UK Fans….)

Penny Strong as I knew her in 1976.

Finally, during the time I was trying to get into the church and then make decisions concerning my mission, I had become good friends with a wonderful young lady from Cottonwood High School named Penny Strong (now married with a different last name).  To this day, I can’t recall how we first met, but she was a godsend.  Ours was not a romantic relationship.  It was a true friendship and she was always there to talk and listen. She was like a “my age group” sister to me in the real sense.  Even to this day we stay in touch.  I am, even to this day, grateful for the strong positive influence Penny had in my life.

This is Penny in 2018. Like me, a happy grandparent and she still has that wonderful youthful look. So glad we are still friends.

This was the group I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) with in Feb. 1976. We all flew to Nagoya together. (Marc White is 4th from the left.  I am on the far right)

Busily engaged as a missionary in 1976

Eventually, we all go our separate ways. Jonathan, Russ, Dale, John and others all left for LDS missions to various parts of the world. I too ended up joining the church and serving an LDS mission. I followed in their footsteps and it was because they were such good examples in helping me to make good decisions.

 
Serving two years as a missionary and being together with a companion for a number of months, it is not usual that some of the missionary companions become good friends. I haven’t kept in contact with many of my former missionary companions or others. But I try to.  Interestingly, while I was in the Language Training Mission in February/March 1975, I had TWO companions and one of them was someone I knew from Murray. His name was Marc White. I did not know Marc very well during high school, but I do know that he was the quarterback of the football team and he was a great leader. During our missionary years, we became very close and he was kind of the cement that kept me strong during my weak times. Since our missions, I have been in touch with him a few times, but we have kind of lost touch over the years. But I’ll never forget how good Marc was in being a good friend and not just a missionary companion and leader to me.
 

One of my favorite mission companions was Lee Richan.  Sadly, he passed away in 2012

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

I have kept in touch with very few of those that I served missionary time with in Japan in the 1970s.  I am friends with a few on Facebook, and keep track of them that way, but we’ve all gone our separate ways. There was one, however, to whom I became very close friends with and had remained friends until he died a few years ago and that is Lee Richan. Much like me, Lee was a convert to the church. He had been a motorcycle rider for many years and had an interesting background. But, as missionary companions,  we achieved our goals together and we had a very fun time together. He was very good about remembering birthdays and would always call me or send me a note on my birthday. Over the years we would talk and communicate and when I could get to Utah,  we would visit with each other.  Sadly, Lee passed away on December 17, 2012.  He was 58.

Lee Richan as I knew him around 2010

Lee was not the first of my friends who had passed away at early age. But, his passing was certainly the most impactful that had experienced up to that time. There were two or three former missionaries and there were a couple of people from two of my different high schools that I had received notification that they had passed. It is always sad when someone you know passes away. But I was really brokenhearted when Lee passed away. His friendship was a valuable jewel to me.

Our first photo together ca. 1978

After my mission, I attended BYU and actually became roommates with Jonathan Jensen there. He and a couple of others had pitched in to buy a house.  There were a couple of others in the house I knew and then I became friends with the other roommates that were there with me. But, I was too engaged in trying to find a “eternal companion,“ to be very involved with my friends most of the time. And once I had found my sweetheart, Julianne, my friendships took a back burner a long time even though I did stay in contact.

 
Time came and went. Jobs came and went. Julianne and I ultimately moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to take us closer to her home yet keep us away from the dreaded heat. While in Flagstaff, I would attend college at Northern Arizona University and it was there today forged my next close friendship with now lifelong friend Charles Snow. Both of us had some Jewish of bringing in our family and we both were converts and we both had a lot of things in common. Eventually, Charles and I worked at the same places are a couple of times and that was always fun. As things would go, we moved onto Arizona State University and Charles and Michelle moved on in other directions. He currently lives in North Carolina and I have been able to visit him there.
 

Visiting with Charles Snow in North Carolina in 2016

Like me, Charles was always fond of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before like me, Charles was always find of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before.
 

Family in Japan in 1987

By 1987, my family eventually went to Japan for a few years.  We made a few friends in Japan, chiefly people that would help us through that experience. But nobody really became too close per se. Life was too busy with children and everything else going on.
 

With Ron (aka Antsy McClain)  ca. 1998

It wasn’t until we returned back from Japan in 1991 that I was blessed with a new lifelong friendship.  I could not locate work in Arizona and ultimately was hired as a contract Japanese interpreter for an auto parts plant in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1992.  I shared a table with another interpreter, named Ron Bell, who was originally from Ohio but was living in Kentucky at the time. Ron was always good for a joke. During his days in college at BYU, Ron was an editorial cartoonist and has also become quite the artist. We always talked of collaborating some day on something or other. There were evenings as well that I would go over to his place and listen to him play his guitar and sing his songs. He eventually left the company and went on to other things. But we stayed in touch as he lived locally in the Lexington area and we remained friends. He later formed a partnership with another guy and as musicians, they called themselves the “Trailer Park Troubadours.” As part of their schtick, Ron had given himself a pseudonym of Antsy McClain, which he still uses to this day.

Working with Antsy McClain

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015

The Trailer Park Troubadours eventually landed a recording contract and had a website that they were not happy with.  Ron, knowing that I could do web work, asked me to start managing his website, which I have done continuously for nearly 25 years.

 
Over those years, I have not just been a business associate doing his website. We have become very close friends and like brothers. We have seen each other struggle through life’s challenges. We have celebrated each other’s good times. Antsy (which is what I typically call him now) helped me to fulfill one of my dreams of being in a band and touring as I was able to participate with the group, not as a musician, but now with logistics and other things. I have always been his biggest cheerleader.
 

Visiting with Antsy McClain (and gawking at his grandchild pix) just before a show in Ohio in 2016

We have actually seen each other‘s children grow up and become parents.  Antsy has joined the grandparent club and now he and I both share the blessing of being grandparents. This has been a joyful relationship for me and hopefully for Ron. I am heartfully grateful for this long 25 year friendship.
 

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco in the early 2000s.  Getting to live a dream thanks to a good friend

 

Having BBQ with my old friend and fellow Troubs’ fan Michael Fisher in Georgetown, TX  We first met through Facebook

As I mentioned early on, Julianne has always said that I have never met a stranger. And that is true. I am always friendly and outgoing and social. That has helped me to develop other friendships over the years. Facebook has opened up doors for me to  develop virtual friendships that I would’ve never expected. I have become friends with people through Facebook and eventually, in some cases, have been able to visit them and get to know them better. Some of these friendships came as a result of Trailer Park Troubadours associations (such as Michael Fisher in photo). Others came as a result of my travel blogging. But in each case these are friendships that I value. There are others that I become friends with on Facebook they have yet to meet in person but we share things in common. To me, that has become a unique form of friendship making.

Hanging out with Texas travel blogger, author and photographer Tui Snider in Azle, TX whom I first met through Facebook.

One of these Facebook friends is Tui Snider. She is a Texas author whom I first met as a result of her book about offbeat attractions in Texas. She has authored a number of books since that time. We quickly became friends via Facebook and, as she lives very close to my sister in Texas, one trip I went out to visit with her and her husband Larry. We have hit it off and are now good friends. I relish her great success in writing, selling books and her numerous speaking engagements. Thankfully, she has been a great mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me to get my first two books out and on the market.

Bobby Cochran performing with Steppenwolf in 1975. I took this at the show.

One of the more interesting friendship stories is that of guitarist Bobby Cochran. I became friends with the former Steppenwolf guitarist when he joined and played lead guitar for Antsy for many years. I actually roomed with Bobby a couple of times on the road and we have taken many trips together and talked about everything…music, religion, politics.  Funny thing about Bobby is that I saw him perform with Steppenwolf in 1975 (see the photo).  Who’d have thought that 25 years later we would be friends and traveling together.

Enjoying time with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY around 2012

I also count myself fortunate to be friends with a number of other very talented musicians that I was introduced to through Antsy McClain.  These would include guitarists, multi-instrumentalists and others.

Hanging with friend Edgar Cruz…a guitarist from Oklahoma
Visiting with Anthony Snape, Nashville-based singer/songwriter from Australia.  I first met him in Bardstown and have kept in touch throughout the years.
With Bruce Wandmayer in 2016 at Woodflock.  Bruce has been with Antsy McClain as his saxophone and slide guitar player for over 20 years.
With a number of photographer friends watching for Bald Eagles at Taylorsville Lake in 2017
Watching for birds at Jacobson Park with Eddie Flinchum

Over the past 2 to 3 years, I have become very engaged in photography. It has always been a passion of mine, but with a nicer camera and a lovely park with a lake nearby, it has become a daily activity. Jacobson Park is nearby and has a large lake and lots of wildlife and lots of beauty. I visit almost daily and practice my art of photography there whether it be on birds, plants or nature such as sunrises and sunsets. Through this activity I’ve also developed friendships with other photographers and these too are unique and fun friendships. We talk about birds and we talk about other things. A couple of these photographers were Vietnam vets and we talk about their time in the service. I have learned about a couple of their families and their family life as they have about mine. It is nice to have these friends and some of them I see almost on a daily basis.

I see Jerome Keeler almost daily. This guy has an eagle eye for ALL birds

David Marler is another of my photographer friends who is out at Jacobson Park almost daily. Great guy and excellent photographer.
Next door neighbor Mike Lemaster

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to add some comment about a couple of my neighbors.  Mike Lemaster has been next door to us for nearly 20 years.  He and Lauren have become good friends and we have watched each other’s children grow up and watched grandkids come along.  Next door to him is another amazing neighbor in Steve Ward. He and his wife Chris are overly generous and always giving.

Both of these neighbors have always been gracious with their time and provide advice.  We have had cookouts together and other fun activities.  Mike keeps an immaculate yard and that is the only thing he does to make me feel bad!  As for Steve, there have been numerous instances where he has come over to help, without being asked. He is the kind of neighbor everybody dreams about having…except for us…it is a reality.

Neighbor Steve Ward. He has become a very good friend and is an amazing neighbor.

I have been blessed to have many many other friends from all walks of life.  Many of you who I count as my friends will read this and likely wonder where you are.  You are in my mind, but not enough space to add any more.  I am grateful for all of my many friends.  My life is truly rich and blessed with friendships.  Way more than I am truly worthy of.  Thanks to ALL of you!!

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 3: The Journey With My Family

David in 1974…age 18

By the time I was ready to depart on the solo part of my journey, at the age of 17, I had already determined a few things regarding my future. Having grown up with a good deal of dysfunction and unhappiness in my own adoptive family, I had determined that if I ever had a family of my own, that kind of dysfunction and heartache would not happen on my watch. I am not saying that everything in my family was bad, but there were many things that just weren’t right and I wanted to make sure I fixed these things for my own offspring, if I was ever blessed to have one.

Starting our family journey in 1980 in Flagstaff, AZ
David at age 60

Now, at age 62, I am thankful to say that, overall, we have had a loving family and I believe that most of my resolutions in terms of family pretty much came true. My children have not had to experience a divorce between their parents. My children were loved and nurtured and had a fairly stable family. Unlike my situation where my parents never came to any of my school activities (other than my high school graduation and later my college graduation), my wife and I strived to attend as many activities of our children as we could possibly do. To be sure, there were times where three different functions occurred simultaneously, and thus one of the children had to miss out on parents being there.  But, but if we could be there, we were.

Family in Japan in late 1980s
Julianne and I were blessed with five wonderful children throughout the first years of our marriage. Soon all of our children will be over the age of 30 and it is hard to believe that we have children approaching the age of 40. I really don’t feel that old.
My fun family!
My Wonderful Family – 1993

I am grateful that my children have had so many wonderful life experiences prior to their departures on their own separate life journeys. I’m grateful that for at least 17 or 18 years of their lives they were able to join Julianne and I on our journey as we lived in Japan, lived in different parts of the country, and had many opportunities provided for us to travel, participate in many activities and do many things that most families never really get to do.

Hanging with oldest daughter Amaree
Having fun with my second child, Marissa
Goofing around with third child Chelsea
Trying to be as handsome as my first son, fourth child Seth
Trying to remain youthful with our youngest child, Solomon
The family visiting Mesa, AZ

We have never had a “rich” life in terms of money, and that has been perfectly okay. We’ve never been dirt poor either. We have always been blessed to have what we needed and sometimes even a little bit more. Our children never did without the necessities of life and for that I am deeply grateful. My children never had to have their heads shaved like my mom used to do. She gave us our haircuts and I didn’t like it. If our children desired that kind of haircut, then it was fine even though I still did not like how they looked.  Fortunately, I believe that we were very good about allowing our children to make guided choices during their youth.

My Wonderful Family – 2012
Thanks to the amazing talents of my wife in so many areas, our children grew up to have many talents themselves. They were all musical. Most of them have been creative in one way, shape or form, whether it be graphic arts or some other form of creativity.
The whole family in prime form – July 2017!
Four of my children have found wonderful spouses whom they love and who love them in return. Those “in-law” kids are definitely an important part of our family. These children have also brought forth their own children, our grandchildren. By the time I was 60, I already had 10 grandchildren. When I left home at age 17, the thought of grandchildren barely crossed my mind. It was all I could think of to just have a wife and my own small family someday. And, I was certainly blessed with abundance. As it says in Proverbs, “children are like arrows… happy is the man that has his quiver full of them.” And I most certainly have a quiver full and I am definitely happy.
Earlier group photo of family
I am grateful for the love my children have for their parents and I am grateful thankful for the togetherness that each of them shares with one another. Like any siblings, they have had their differences. But, when we have family gatherings, there is togetherness. For us, “the family that stays together, STAYS together.” When we have issues, the children are there to discuss them and share them. They call each other, they share time with each other, they carry on family traditions such as calling and singing happy birthday. It is a joy to this old man to see the evolution of my five children and ultimately my 10 sweet grandchildren.
A composite of me with all of my grandchildren in 2012 and then again, same pose in 2017.
And what can I say about my grandchildren.? They all bring me so much happiness and joy. I am glad that I don’t have to raise them every day, so I get them most of the time when they are in a good mood. But it is a joy to spend time with these amazing children. I have been blessed to be able to spend some quality time with many of them. I’ve been able to share the adventures of traveling on the back roads with most of them. My children and grandchildren will all learn diversity. They will all know the wonders of this world. Hopefully they will appreciate and enjoy those times spent with Julianne and me.
Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving “Turkey Hat”
Fun with grandchild #2 – Kade Matthews
Goofing off with #3 – Charles Matthews
Spreading sunshine with #4 – Joselyn Noe
Bright smiles with #5 Landen Noe
Cuddling with #6 – Olivia “Livvy” Matthews
Having fun with #7 – Rockwell Kravetz
Sharing a flamingo moment with #8 – Lyla Noe
Playing (as always) with the carefree #9 – Benson Matthews
Enjoying Grampz time with #10 – Samuel Kravetz
Don’t get me wrong. Raising our children has not been an easy task either. Each of them has brought challenges to my wife and myself. Each of my children has made decisions that we did not necessarily agree with. But as we grow older, we learned to support our children and their decisions and to love them unconditionally, as best as we were able. And that love has been reciprocated back in abundance. I am deeply grateful for that.
I love playing with my grandchildren
Hanging with the Grandkidz at the Wigwams in Cave City, KY. Yes, we stayed there!
I feel rich

And now, 45 years after I had left my own home and set forth on my personal journey and traveled these many years on this journey with my family, I feel “rich“ in the abundance of family. I feel rich in joy and experiences. I have had a rich life because of my children and my grandchildren and this will be something I will be able to always have with me.

Bottom line… My life has been wonderfully blessed and that is why I am “awesome, but getting better” everyday.

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 1: Life’s Journey

Our Life Journey is a long road

As we approach Thanksgiving 2018, I have taken tome to reflect on those things that I am thankful for, probably more than I have in the past.  As a 62 year old, I have a great deal to look back on and to be thankful for.  So, for the next week, through the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I am doing a post each day to express my gratitude for the various segments of my life.  Some of what I write may be more personal than others may want to see, but to me, these are the main things I want to express my gratitude for.

Which way do we go?

I want to start out this week long effort by expressing my gratitude first and foremost for my life’s journey.  Each of us must walk the paths of our lives’ journeys.  Nobody else can walk this path. Interestingly enough, our journey is not really our own until we leave our parents and our homes.  We all start our journeys on the backs (or in the hands) of others.  And that initial part of the journey may very well lay the foundational footpath for our own personal journey.

 

We must all have our choices

Being a Christian and believing in a pre-existence and an after-life is always helpful to me in understanding and appreciating my journey.  I believe that my Father in Heaven let me know what treacherous and difficult paths would lay ahead of me as I came to earth.  I accepted that knowing as well that I would be blessed with guidance from Him along the way as well as the ability to choose which way to go.  I don’t believe for a moment that God laid out a specific course for me to take.  Rather, he set things in motion for me to take paths with many forks in the road.

I believe this is the earliest known photo of me, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born.

My journey began in Cleveland, Ohio in early October 1956. I was born into an Italian family (my birth name was Carmen David Laurienzo), but to a Jewish mother. My father, Joe Laurienzo, was a the son of a migrant Italian name Carmine Laurienzo.  From all I know, Joe was a hard working individual.  He lived in the same home as his father on Murray Hill Road in the Little Italy district of Cleveland.

I will never know for sure how my Italian Catholic father met and ultimately married my German Jewish mother (Orene Goldberg, later to be known as Jennierose Lavender). But, I was conceived and was, at the time, the beginning of the third generation of Laurienzos to be born in and live in the house on Murray Hill Road.

The home I was born into on Murray Hill Rd. in Cleveland, OH. This was taken about 1956/57

Joe Laurienzo and Orene ca. 1956 or 1957. This is the only photo I have of both of my natural parents together.

And thus began my amazing journey.

Mother Orene and me

By the time I was 10 months old, in August 1957, my journey took a turn.  Giving in to pressure from her staunch Jewish mother (Marion Goldberg) in Albuquerque, Orene left with me while the Catholic side of the family was all celebrating the Feast of Assumption Festival…one of the biggest annual events in this little corner of Cleveland. I was essentially snuck away, never to meet my natural father, who, I came to find later on, was heartbroken.  Just a little over one year later, Orene was being remarried to the second Joseph in my life, Joseph Kravetz, in a fairly social Jewish ceremony.  They were married in Albuquerque on Dec. 21, 1958.

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

As a very young child, i had already experienced some major directional changes in my journey.  And this would ultimately be the way of life for me for at least the next 15 years of my life. Orene and Joe K ended up having a son together in 1960 (Aaron). Then she left us.  She left Joe Kravetz alone to raise my younger half-brother Aaron and me.

As a young four year old, I am sure that somehow I managed to blame myself for her leaving.  As for Aaron and me, we ended up with a number of babysitters to take care of us while my Dad worked. Some of them would come and go.  It was a tough rocky road for these two little boys.

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

Joe Kravetz eventually participate in some single-adult parent organization (or something) and later met Marjorie Biel (nee Tudor), who had become divorced and had a young boy (Danny), 16 days younger than me.  I believe that they both married out of necessity more than love.  Nonetheless, as a young child, I was piggybacked into this relationship, which brought forth two more children (Gary in 1964 and Sherry in 1967).

Marge with David, Danny and Aaron in 1963 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico.

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

Through adoptions, all of us became Kravetz kids.  But it was a hodge-podge family.  Dad worked all the time for a drug store chain.  Mom (Marge) was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and would take us to the Kingdom Hall a couple of times a week. She diligently sought to make sure we had a religious upbringing.  She had health issues and struggled in her relationship with Joe.  But, kudos to both of them as they made the courageous choice to stay together, despite deep-rooted differences and a great deal of family dysfunction and challenge (Danny was “mentally retarded” – a term used in the 1960s/70s). Aaron and I could be unruly.

Between 1965 and 1974, we had moved four different times to four different cities due to my Dad’s job transfers. More rocky, rutted roads for my life journey lay before me.  New homes, changes in schools, new friends, leaving old friends. It wasn’t easy for any of us.  By the time we were in Bozeman, Montana, I had run away from home twice to get away from the dysfunction…  I was ready to journey forth on my own personal journey and off of the piggyback roller coaster ride I had experienced.

Joe Kravetz and Marge, with my brothers and sister – Aaron, Danny, Gary and Sherry in 1978   This was the only complete family photo we ever had.

I will say here that Joe Kravetz and Marge did the very best they could with what was handed to them.  They both had their emotional baggage and the five children, who were, without choice, along for the rocky ride, had to learn to deal with it all, and we all did in our own ways.

David ca. 1973 – I looked this way my Senior Year too.

I had always been the prayerful type.  I believed in a God and I prayed for a miracle on many occasions.  Mine came in the chance meeting of some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bozeman in the summer of 1973.  The one week that I spent visiting with this family from New Jersey every day set me on my own path and in my own direction…one that would ultimately get me asked to leave my home as a 17 year old in Murray, Utah in the summer of 1974.

So, finally, in 1974 I began my own journey, making my own choices on my life’s direction….both good and bad.

After graduating high school in Murray in 1974, I had to make many huge, life-altering choices.  I came to one fork in the road after another, knowing full well that the choices made at those crossroads were ones I could never go back on and “try again.”  That’s the funny thing with choices.

Working as a missionary in Japan from 1976-78

After choosing to be baptized into the LDS Church in January 1975, I had made choices to leave jobs to take on other “grass is always greener over there” kinds of jobs.  Then, it happened…  the first big big big choice.  Do I serve an LDS mission or do I take the really good paying job?  It would have to be one or the other.  In the long run, I chose to serve and this really set the direction for my life journey from then on.

Since that time, my journey has meandered in many directions.  Life has had many challenges, ups and downs and frustrations.  But it has also been filled with joy, happiness and smiles.  Bottom line, I have had a wonderfully rich life and over the next week will show my gratitude to the many things that have crossed my journey’s path.

I am very grateful for my personal journey and for those that have spent part of their journeys walking by my side on mine.

Life’s Been good

Being Mr. MomGrampz

Hanging with RockE and Sammy

For two weeks in February (2018) I spent my time in Cypress, TX babysitting my two grandsons, Rockwell age 7 and Samuel age 2. Honestly, this was a crazy thing for me to commit to do when looking at it in retrospect. That said, it was also a joyful thing to do, despite some of the not so joyful things that accompanied it.

When I committed to do this a couple of months before, based on a request from my son Seth and his wife Holly, my wife was concerned as to whether or not I could do it alone. I think I agreed with her back then but felt that I had made a commitment to go forth and try. Interestingly enough, my children all seemed to have faith in me.

Sammy in my hat

Cowboy RockE – prepped for Western Days

Playtime with Grampz

As I drove from Lexington to Cypress, there were four or five instances where I thought to myself literally “what in the heck am I getting myself into?”

While I managed two children and a full-time job and all of the other things going on with taking care of children and the household, my son and his wife enjoyed their time in Disney World, universal studios, and a week long cruise in the Caribbean going to Jamaica and Haiti.

Visiting my Cousin Lew in Austin

I will say upfront and right now, this was not easy. Even now, I think to myself that it was a crazy and maybe even insane commitment. But I made it through! And the boys are still alive and smiling! In fact, my sons have told me that for almost a week after I left little Sam would wake up in the morning calling my name to come get him.

Chowing down on Cheerios

Smiley boy

Many people, including strangers that I at times ran into, said that I was a good grandpa. Others asked “how do you do it?“

There is great strength in love. Love got me through this. I love all 10 of my grandchildren and I have grown a stronger love for my two grandsons down there in Texas.

Oh no, this was not a box of cherries. In fact, it was more like a cup full of pits with an occasional cherry thrown in. Once again, this was not easy.

Visiting a What-a-burger Superhero

Becoming a hero with Rockwell – Pancakes for dinner

But, as I responded to those who made their comments about my adventure down in Houston, I oftentimes responded that “I will look back on this time with fondness.“

We often forget the hard times and the challenges because the joyful times seem to sink deeper into our memories. And there were plenty of those mingled amidst the mundane, and even super poopy times.

Playing “Grab Hat” with Sammy

I won’t soon forget the playfulness of little Samuel. Really, he is a joyful little boy. But, he is two years old and the term “terrible twos“ fits him well. Nonetheless, how can a grandfather be angry when he yells “no!“ at his grandson for getting into something or being obnoxious, and his grandson walks over, looks him in the eye and starts kissing his arm as a form of apology? And how can I not forget my melted heart every time I peeled and sectioned a Mandarin orange and set it on the table for him and he would say “thank you Grampz?”‘And that, totally unsolicited.

Then, there were many times where I would say “thank you Sammy,“ and he would say in his cute little voice “You’re welcome Grampz.”

Mandarin Orange Mania – the source of Captain Poopypants I think

Gotta love this happy face

The faces of happiness and crabbiness

Trust me, things were not always hunky-dory with little Sammy. He did not get his new nickname “Captain Poopypants“ from me for no reason. I have not changed diapers in probably 15 or 20 years. I got plenty of opportunities here and some of them were, well, pretty crappy! Not once, not twice, but three times he had massive overload that leaked out of his diaper onto the car seats, shirts, up his back, and everywhere because there was no room left in the diaper. Captain Poopypants!!

Enjoying Baseball practice with Grampz

I’m gonna be a ball player Grampz

He did sleep sometime

Almost every day, working with little Sammy was a roller coaster ride! His mood swings drove me bonkers. He made it perfectly clear when he did not want something or when he did not like to go somewhere. But, Grampz is much bigger and stronger and Sammy would always lose that battle.

Despite the battles, Sammy is a very forgiving young little guy. I still get joy thinking about setting him up on the changing table, or elsewhere when I was changing him and he would be nervous about the height and would start to whimper. I taught him to fold his arms and assured him he would not fall. It got to the point where he would actually say “fold arms?“ And I would say “yes”, you’ll be just fine because Grampz will hold you. Sammy did not fall. And, initially he would not take my hand and fly from the dresser down to the floor but by the end of the two weeks, he was a highflying super baby! Flying Captain Poopypants!

Gramps and Sammy are great pals

He was very playful most of the time. He was a handful at other times. But, I know that I will forget most of the difficult times with him (though I will most likely not forget the massive poopy diapers).

Rockwell trying to hit

Rockwell and Grampz are pals too

Mr. Basketball?

Then, there is the seven-year-old Rockwell. He is one of the most pleasant and easy going boys around. He was generally very cooperative and always willing to help. I am proud of that guy!

But, he is seriously addicted to Minecraft and had his head in the gameboy quite often. I figured, as a two week long babysitter, I did not want to fight too much, so I let it be except in certain circumstances. But, it did become a great tool for battling non-cooperation and other areas. All it took was “do you want to lose the game boy for a day?“ And he was as good as can be!

The morning ritual ” Chew and View”

SpiderRock!

Early mornings consisted of him getting up, playing the game boy for 20 minutes with the television on and then making his breakfast and he would do what I referred to as his “chew and view“ exercise. Once again, I tended to be more on the lenient side as long as he was chewing while viewing.

Helping out with Sammy

Player of the Game!

Let me tell you, Rockwell is a humongous, wonderful helper! He put away the dishes, he put away the folded clothes, he picked up the living room, he took out the garbage, he would help little Sammy when I couldn’t help.

And then there is his infectious laugh. He loves to laugh. He loves to tell jokes and tell puns. And he is good at it!

I also learned firsthand how bright this young little boy is. He is very inquisitive. He asked me how they made glass. He asked me how clouds were formed. He asked me how wood was made. He asked detailed questions about how a car is assembled. He was intrigued that my job entailed working with superheroes and cartoon characters. He thought that was amazing!

They call him the Great Defender

Equalizing the spread

I enjoyed watching Rockwell and his basketball and baseball practices. He really does have some good basketball skills, but, he is also a seven-year-old with the attention span of a seven-year-old. I watched him in right field at baseball practice as he threw his glove in the air, sat on the ground, talked to friends, and had no idea that he was on a baseball field waiting for a ball to be hit to him. Makes me chuckle! However, I am sure that as he gets older he will learn to focus and will do well.

His favorite thing to take in his lunch? A peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. No jelly please.

Rockwell’s Favorite Lunch? – Peanut Butter and Nutella

The usual faire — Chicken Nuggets or Chicken Fingers for dinner

Speaking of food, these boys are Notorious. They are notorious for eating chicken nuggets and chicken fingers, practically at every meal! If it’s green, they will most likely not eat it. Unless it’s Jell-O. If it’s orange and long and looks like a carrot, chances are, they will most likely not eat it. Even bribery of ice cream could not get them over that hump. They would, however, occasionally indulge in pizza.

Chicken Nuggets went down. Broccoli and carrots did not

We went out quite a bit because the schedule was so hectic. It’s not easy to work full-time and take care of all of the household and the kids and still have any energy to do anything. But, I did cook a couple of times. In fact, I made macaroni and cheese for the first time in probably 15 years. It was a good macaroni and cheese too because I added a lot of extra cheese to it. The boys downed that, but they had to have chicken nuggets with it! One morning, after Rockwell had already left for school, I made some scrambled eggs and fed them to Sammy. He devoured them! That surprised me.

Sammy down Grampz’ special scrambled eggs with cheeze

Oh yeah … Llama Llama on Netflix

Other things that happened during the course of this two weeks included watching lots of TV shows on Netflix that are for ages 2 to 7. I know all about the show Llama Llama now. I think I have seen every LEGO related action cartoon too. And yes, I have learned quite a bit about How to Train a Dragon.

I wondered if during the first week after Seth and Holly returned if they will hear little Sammy call out from his crib in the morning “Grampz. I am awake.”

Almost every time that I asked Sammy to get his shoes to get ready to go, he would bring his shoes, I would put them on and then he would run to go get my shoes and say “Grampz shoes?“ Such a cutie!

Putting the boys to bed (as seen from the “spy cam”

Smiley, Texas

One of the days I was here, I took the boys on a little mini road trip because I wanted to go see the town of Smiley, Texas. Every time I mentioned that to Rockwell he would laugh and chuckle. He was so excited to go see the town of Smiley. Unfortunately, the town of Smiley is really a boring and a not so “smiley“ little place. Heck, the Smiley water tower does not even have a smiley face on it, it just says Smiley on it. The only smiley water tower I ever saw without a smiley on it. But, we did get to see a smiley water tower that same day and the glee and joy on Rockwell‘s face was something to behold. He thought that was so funny until I saw the second one and then he was even more gleeful.

Rockwell with a true Smiley Water Tower

Playing with giant squirrels – teaching the the delights of roadtripping

In the end, I don’t believe that I have ever spent two weeks along with two children in my entire life. Many times I spent and a few days with each of my children are all of my children, especially when my wife had a new baby or something like that. But I had breaks as I was able to go to work at the office and we paid a babysitter to take care of kids. I had no paid babysitter in Houston, and I had relatively little time to myself. All of my conversations have been child conversations and very few opportunities for adult conversation. It was a pretty interesting two weeks.

Do I regret going down to Houston and doing this for my children? Absolutely not! Not for one friggin’ minute! Was I crazy to do this? I would pretty much say “yes indeed.“ Will my two grandsons soon forget about this? I don’t think so. I think they had an amazing time with their grandfather and I’m grateful that I was able to provide that for them.

Pancakes for dinner

I will look back on this two weeks with fondness. I love my two grandsons.

Love these grandsons

 

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