3 to 40: We Are Family – Part 2 (The Boys)

In my previous post I wrote about how our forty years is tied to our family and did a montage of photos for each of my first three children, all daughters.  Continuing is a collection of photos about our two boys, Seth and Solomon, who came to our family in March 1987 and March 1989.

I was working on my PhD at Arizona State University (which I never completed) when Seth decided to come into our world in March 1987. At that time the three girls were seven, six and four and a half.  It was a new experience for us as we actually had children old enough to appreciate the newborn young boy and even, in some respects, assist us with him.

SETH DAVID

Three sisters started adoring on their little brother Seth almost immediately

Baby Seth was a cutie with red hair that he soon lost.

When Seth was about 5 months old, the family was on its way to Oita, Japan, where we would live from 1987 to late 1991.  So, for most of Seth’s early years he was watching Japanese television and getting the Japanese experience (as were the three girls, who made their way into Japanese public schools, learned the language and the culture, etc.)

Shortly after arriving in Japan, Marissa helped Julianne with Seth

It was easier to carry Seth on our back everywhere we went

Seth’s favorite bath place was on our balcony overlooking the Oita River.

And he liked the beach to. This was in Saga-no-Seki, Japan

Like the other kids, Seth was pulled into Japanese ads. He was in a number of them as a blonde baby boy.

Another shot for a different ad in Japan

Japan had a major influence on Seth

Marissa and Seth were captains of a ship in Beppu (at least for a few minutes)

Seth prized his Mickey Mouse wizard doll when in Japan

Finally back in the United States in 1992, Seth was able to get established in American schools and did well.

Seth visiting the Grand Canyon shortly after getting back to the U.S.

Visiting Sunset Crater National Monument near Flagstaff in 1992

Seth became a Jamestown settler for a while in Jamestown settlement Virginia in 1993

Hanging with his sister Amaree in 1992 (celebrating our 13th Anniversary)

Looking dapper in 1994

Seth in elementary school in Nicholasville, KY

Seth the high schooler

We visited a “bodily function” exhibit in St. Louis. Chelsea and Seth seemed to enjoy the Poo to You display

The Giant kid with the Jolly Green Giant in 2004. He accompanied Amaree to Great Falls, Montana when she moved there after graduation from UK

Seth as a football player at Lafayette

Shortly before graduating high school, Seth obtained his Eagle Scout. A proud moment.

Seth at Lafayette High School Graduation

Seth served an LDS mission in Salt Lake City

Seth and Holly Wedding Day in December 2009

Seth was so popular that they named a town after him in West Virginia

SOLOMON JOSEPH

Julianne and Sol in 1989 shortly after he was born. This was in Oita, Japan

We were already living in Japan when Solomon decided to join our family. According to Julianne, he was her easiest birth.  And, almost instantly he was a hit in Oita.  Not many “gaijin” children were born in that part of Japan.  So, it was great news for all of us and for many of our Japanese friends.

Solomon had long, fun curly hair

He always had a smile on his face (or so it seemed)

Seth and Solomon pretty much grew up together and were pretty much inseparable until about high school days…

Got a nice shot of Marissa and Solomon at a Japanese cafe around 1991

One of our favorite pics of the two boys together.

Solomon had his favorite toys too. This was at his grandmother’s house in Mesa, AZ

Amaree and Solomon together at some event.  That’s Chelsea in the background

Watching the horse events at the Kentucky Horse Park

Solomon and Seth looking nice in their ties

Fishing with Grandpa Bateman in Utah in 1997

Some of the kids, including Solomon at Bowlin’s Akela Flats in southeastern New Mexico December 1999

Seth and Solomon with Marissa in Chicago, just a couple of weeks before she was married

Solomon was always playful

Solomon and Seth giving “Aunt Beula” a kiss after a Trailer Park Troubadours concert

Seth and Solomon were mentored in many ways by University of Kentucky (and later pro) football player Aaron Boone

Solomon really liked hanging out with my friend, former Steppenwolf and Trailer Park Troubadours guitarist Bobby Cochran

Solomon as a football player at Lafayette. As a Senior in 2006 he was named All-City.

Solomon was a tough wrestler as a sophomore. He ended up going to state

Solomon at his Eagle Court of Honor

Both Seth and Solomon were linemen for Lafayette High School’s Generals

Solomon graduation from High School with his lovely mother

Ha! They named a town after Solomon too!

Soon after graduation Solomon made his way to Colorado to work in the Medical Marijuana industry.  He has become an expert in growing and prepping medical grade cannabis and is now in Kentucky working on a large hemp facility.

Solomon shows off the Cannabis Cup that he helped his company win in Colorado.  He still works with Todd (in the left) growing hemp in Kentucky

We have certainly been blessed with a wonderful family of five children.  Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the expansion of our family…our ten wonderful grandchildren.  These have extended the joy we have as we approach our 40th anniversary in a few days.

Solomon with Mom and Dad in 2017

 

 

4 to 40: We Are Family – Part 1 (The Girls)

Obviously, there are five other people that have been very involved in most of the forty years of Julianne and my marriage.  During the course of our first decade of wedded bliss, we also had the blessing of five wonderful children…  We did the girls first gig with Amaree, Marissa and Chelsea.  These three were born within 35 months of each other and were all married in a six week period in 2005.  Then the boys Seth and Solomon came along in 1987 and 1989, almost exactly 2 years from each other (Well, actually 2 years and 2 days).

In many ways our children grew up with us  Julianne and I were married at a young age.  We were ready.  And we were also ready for children.

All three girls married in 2005

The following shots are of our first three girls as they were growing up.  I intentionally did not add anything with brothers.  Those will be added in Part 2 tomorrow.

AMAREE

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

Here I am with Amaree as a newborn

I was there at Julianne’s side in Flagstaff, Arizona on that cold winter morning when Amaree was born. Word can never express all of the feelings that went through as I became a 23 year old father. I still get chills when I thing back to the MAJOR event in the life of my wife, myself and our new first child.

As with any parents, we had many hopes and dreams for this sweet little daughter of ours.  And, obviously, we had no idea if any other children would come our way.  But, we made sure that THIS child was loved beyond measure.

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

Amaree in front of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ ca. 1983

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree all dressed up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree in an ad in Japan in the early 1990s

Amaree at her high school graduation in June 1998

Amaree and Aaron June 18, 2005 in Cardston, Alberta

MARISSA LEA

Just about 14 months after Amaree was born, we had another cold winter March morning in Flagstaff when our second daughter, Marissa, came along.  The feelings of joy I had when Amaree was born were the same for Marissa. No favoritism in joyful feelings!

Marissa baby picture – don’t have many. (Wish I had a better one!)

Dad and two daughters in 1983

Our little family in Flagstaff AZ in 1981

Hiking with Marissa and Amaree at the Grand Canyon

Julianne with Amaree and Marissa in the fall if 1981

Amaree and Marissa were fun sisters (taken in Sedona, AZ)

One of my favorite shots of little Marissa taken at Student Housing in Flagstaff

She is STILL a Supergirl and SuperMom

Marissa getting a swing from her Aunt Laura in Mesa, AZ

Family picture at family reunion in early 1982

Marissa with her friend Rika in Japan in 1987

Posing in Japan

Marissa in Japanese advertisement in 1989

Marissa in High School

Marissa Graduation from High School

Amaree and Marissa hanging out during ther high school days

Marissa reporting that she is going to Thailand to serve an LDS Mission

Marissa at her wedding in Louisville, KY in June 2005, just five days after Amaree’s wedding in Canada

CHELSEA DAWN

About 18 months after Marissa was born, we had another visitor.  Chelsea came into the world on a cold November day in Flagstaff.  Joy continued for us as our third daughter entered this world.  Couldn’t find any baby pictures, but

Little Chelsea sleeping when she was about 2

I think Chelsea was around 2 in this shot

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

Chelsea’s 3rd Birthday November 1985

Young sassy Chelsea Dawn — “you WILL NOT spank my little bottom Mom!”

Chelsea was a cutie at age 5 in Japan

One of my all-time favorite pictures of Chelsea taken in August 1987 in Oita, Japan

 

Three Sisters

Three Sisters in Kamiura, Japan around 1989

Chelsea was in many ads in Japan – This one for a large department store

Julianne with the three girls

Chelsea in a kimono in Japan around 1988

Visiting grandma in Arizona

Chelsea in Sedona in 1993

Three Sisters in Monument Valley – July 1993

Chelsea in high school

Chelsea Senior photo

Chelsea’s mischievous look

Dad…QUIT – 1998

Chelsea was also married in 2005, but that didn’t end well.  She married Jorge Mendez in 2015 and they are great together.  The first photo was one I took of Chelsea on her wedding day in 2005.

Chelsea – wedding shot 2005

Chelsea at her wedding to Jorge in 2015

And finally, to finish off Part 1 — about the girls…

Dad and three married daughters June 2005

 

 

 

 

12 to 40: Then and Now – Part 3

This is Part 3 of the Then and Now posts for my 60 to 40 posts.  As noted in the previous two posts, a lot has changed in 40 years.  That includes our two lives as a married couple. As with any marriage, we have had our own roller coaster ride.  Each marriage has its ups and downs.  But, we have come through because we really care about each other and have made give and take a key part of our lives.

With that in mind, there are many outside influences that can impact a relationship and one’s lives. And this has been the case for many of us in the past 40 years.  We have lived through a number of national and worldwide crises, terrorist events, massive social changes and more.  Following are some of the big events that have shaped the world we live in and, in some way, shape or form, impacted the way we live our lives.

Some of the US Presidents from 1979 to present
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter participate in the State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush, at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 in Washington. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

Since we were married in 1979, we have seen seven Presidents in office including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.  What a ride that has been!

The horrific attack terror attacks on New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001 have had a major impact on the world

We have heard of dozens of terrorist attacks in the world, from the kidnapping of Americans in Tehran, to the horrific devastation of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and many more since. For us, life goes on.  Gratefully, none of these attacks has a direct impact on our lives, but the indirect impact has been immeasurable.

 

I worked in the solar energy in the 1990s. It is a huge industry today.

Wind farms now dot the country

In our 40 years we have seen the renewable energy industry grow by leaps and bounds around the country. This is a wonderful thing for the world.

Gas shortage of 1979 was a major impact to us

Gas may have only been around 88 cents a gallon, but the shortage in 1979 caused massive lines

The country has seen a few major financial crises, but the 2008 crisis was massive

The housing crisis of 2008 was the cause of many losing their homes. We were very lucky…more than once.

Crisis after crisis, Julianne and I have been blessed to weather the storms in many ways.  Sadly, some of the crises did cause unplanned job losses for us. But, we worked with resilience and have come back on a couple of occasions.  Job loss is not easy.  It takes a toll on you emotionally.  But, Julianne and I have created multiple skillsets over the past 40 years and so we were able to move on to other areas of employment and survive these crises.

Social Change has pulled our country in different directions

Riding the storms of societal change

Both Julianne and I grew up in the 1960s when the Vietnam War had been a driving force for Social Change.  We also experienced the effects of racism and sexism.  Since the 1970s, there has been much in social change.  Not only have we seen a return of race-related protest and violence in our country, but also protests for women’s rights and the evolution and normalization of rights for the LGTBQ (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bi and Queer) groups.  Fights over gun rights, employment rights, the rights of gays and lesbians to marry…all of these have had major impacts on how society and the work place function.  Diversity rules in schools and places of employment have led to more difficulty in employment.  In fact, all of the brouhaha surrounding all of the social change was likely a contributing factor to Donald Trump winning the Presidential Election in 2016.  So far, Julianne and I have weathered these storms as well.  Commitment to our own values and commitment to each other has really helped us through this.

We can get through change

16 to 40: Our House is a very, very, very fine house – for 20 years!

One of the big events in a marriage is the purchase of a first home. For Julianne and me, this event took place on June 30, 1999, exactly 20 years ago today.  It was, ironically, just a couple of weeks away from our 20th anniversary as well.

Why did it take 20 years?  Well, a lot happened in our first 20 years of marriage…college, more college, new jobs, four and a half years in Japan, job searches, months of separation due to jobs, etc.  And, of course, the births of five children, etc.

Our house around 2001

I was actually working at Lexmark in 1999 when we got approved for our home in Lexington.  It was our fourth residence in Kentucky, counting our rental homes in Frankfort, Nicholasville and Lexington.

Back of the house around 2001 — that’s a shorter Seth in the picture.

The stories this house could tell.  All of the life events that took place.  All of the joys, challenges, fun, etc.  When we moved in, the house was a crowded place with 5 children.  But, little by little, they all found their way to their own lives and left Julianne as empty nesters.  But, the grandchildren came along and the house enjoyed more celebrations and messes (from the Masso-Destructo Unit — aka grandkidz).  Today, there are only three others in our cul-de-sac that were here when we moved in back in 1999.  Good neighbors still abound!

Remodeled Kitchen (November 2011)

As the years passed, we have added new paneling, redone the deck, added a room from the garage, remodeled the living room, remodeled the kitchen, added new windows, remodeled the main bathroom, added a half-bathroom, remodeled the upstairs bathroom and more.  Like us, the house has changed but has kept us protected through winter ice storms, massive rain storms and the day to day weather ups and downs.

We added a small bathroom with a Japanese-style Caroma toilet…built in place to wash hands. Saves on water and space.

This has always been a place of refuge for our children and family and is most certainly our home.  We both love this place.

Our House on June 30, 2019

Always like flowers to look nice

Bigger deck, thanks to our son Seth and his wife Holly a few years ago

The new bathroom – a Julianne triumph in 2019

Added new flooring in November 2011 – African Mahogany

Yes, our house has been a very, very, very fine house for two decades.  Thank you.

Our House – June 30, 2019

 

 

 

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!!