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

Life’s Journey and Choices – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Part I

Countdown 365: #233 – Arlene Bateman, Mother In Law

Arlene Shepherd ca. 1944

Arlene Shepherd ca. 1944

Today would have marked the 89th birthday of my mother-in-law Arlene Bateman. This amazing lady passed away on April 17, 2011. Hard to believe it has been nearly five years. Just about three weeks earlier, my father-in-law and her husband Maurice Bateman had passed away (March 24, 2011). Those were rough and sad times for many many people.

But today I would like to celebrate the life of Arlene, a wonderful and talented woman who, to me, became the mother I didn’t have (my natural mother left me when I was 4 and my adoptive mother Marge passed away at age 47 on Feb. 1, 1982).

Arlene and Maury Bateman on their wedding day

Arlene and Maury Bateman on their wedding day

Arlene ca. 1950

Arlene ca. 1950

My first couple of times meeting Arlene did not go well. I made some stupid mistakes of youth (I was only 22 when I got engaged to her daughter Julianne and I stumbled oft in the course of our engagement). You see, Arlene was a very cultured and talented woman, staunch in her religion and desirous that her daughter would have the BEST man possible as a husband. Admittedly, I didn’t come close to the qualifying criteria on a number of fronts. Despite that, Julianne and I did get married and I had to live with the intimidating challenges of trying to meet the standards of my mother-in-law.

 

The Bateman family early on.

The Bateman family early on.

This is not to say that Arlene was a mean or strict mother-in-law, for she was not. Rather, she had high standards and expectations, and rightly so. Her father had been the superintendent of schools in Mesa, AZ for many years and she was a descendant of Mormon pioneers who had crossed the plains. She and her husband Maury were well-known and highly respected people in the Mesa community.

Arlene Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene Bateman on her 50th Anniversary

Arlene Bateman on her 50th Anniversary

So, in my eyes at that time, I felt like I was a pauper marrying into royalty, and my sweet wife was the darling princess worthy of a royal prince. I had to face the challenging road of improving myself in many facets of life. I was literally put through the refiner’s fire. I married up and I knew it. And the first few times we visited Mesa, I was always fearful of facing the queen!!

But, as the years passed, Arlene’s heart softened. Rather than being the scary intimidating queen, she became the nurturing and loving mother I needed. She accepted my faults (but quite often reminded me of the need to improve upon them – and what loving mother doesn’t do that?)

Arlene with her daughter Kathy (L) and my wife Julianne (R)

Arlene with her daughter Kathy (L) and my wife Julianne (R)

Arlene and Maury Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene and Maury Bateman in the 1990s

As Arlene could see that I extended every effort to treat her prized daughter Julianne like gold, she realized my potential as a good husband. After a while I was like the Tom Branson of Downton Abbey (see http://downtonabbey.wikia.com/wiki/Tom_Branson) who went from being a lowly Irish chauffeur to a member of the high society British family. Different cultural upbringing but adopted and accepted into the family.

I felt accepted and loved and from the mid-1980s onward. I felt comfortable in our infrequent visits with the family (we rarely lived close by so visits were only a couple of times a year).

Arlene on an Alaska Cruise to Alaska in 2004. We joined the family on this cruise

Arlene on an Alaska Cruise to Alaska in 2004. We joined the family on this cruise

That's All - One of Arlene's many CDs of her lovely piano playing

That’s All – One of Arlene’s many CDs of her lovely piano playing

Through Arlene’s great example I learned to be a better husband and father. Looking back on those times reveals to me many teaching moments. She was a treasure to my life.

Arlene was a very talented person. She was an amazing pianist and recorded numerous CDs for her family members to enjoy. She was also a talented artist and had painted a number of pieces of art that hung throughout her home. She was also skilled on the stage as a performer and later a producer. In fact, she and her husband were instrumental in turning the Easter sunrise service into the Easter Pageant. Maury served as General Chair over the entire event and Arlene was the music coordinator and choir director. She had written some of the original music for the event as well.

Arlene as a young child

Arlene as a young child

Arlene and Maury at the triple wedding reception of my three daughters in 2005

Arlene and Maury at the triple wedding reception of my three daughters in 2005

Arlene was an English teacher at Mesa’s Westwood High School for many years. She wrote more than 16 ward road shows, was a PTA president, helped reorganize the Mesa Community Theater, and acted in many productions. Among her honors is Mesa Citizen of the Year.

She was also a great example in church service as she and her husband served two missions, one as the Mission President in Johannesburg, South Africa and another at the temple there. She served the church faithfully in many callings in Mesa over the years.

Always classy, always understanding ...Arlen Bateman

Always classy, always understanding …Arlene Bateman

Arlene in early 2000s

Arlene in early 2000s

She was a blessing to my life. I recall as she laid in her bed, just a couple of days before her death, I was able to hold her hand, look into her eyes and thank her for all she had done for me and my wife. I was honored and humbled to tearfully let her know how much I loved her and appreciated her.  To me, Arlene was not a mother-in-law. She was a mother. And I miss her.

Countdown 365: #234 – 40th Anniversary of LDS Mission

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

There are some events in one’s life that are turning points…big decisions that impact the remainder of one’s life.  Today I celebrate the 40th Anniversary of one of those events.  It was 40 years ago today that I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) in Provo, Utah to learn Japanese and prepare to serve as an LDS Missionary in the Japan Nagoya Mission. This singular event would literally have a myriad impacts on the direction of my life, the life of my wife and of my children.

Prior to this event only three real others were as momentous…my mother taking me away from my father and moving to New Mexico (something that I had no control over but had a massive impact on my life), my decision to convert to the LDS Church in 1975 (and thus be asked to leave the house at age 17 as a result) and then the actual decision to serve versus the decision to take what would have been a high paying job in 1975.

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT - Feb. 8, 1976

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT – Feb. 8, 1976

Pondering life's choices as a young missionary

Pondering life’s choices as a young missionary

With each decision made at a crossroads in life (or a fork in the road of life if you prefer), a whole string of consequences unseen is set in motion (until the next crossroad, which then again leads to another set of unforeseen life events). But this mission to serve the Lord in Japan (not to mention all of the service to the Japanese people) had a profound impact on my life, my testimony, friends I have made and, ultimately my career choices. And, as I approach my 60th of year of life, I can look back and consider all of the things that WOULD NOT have occurred in my life had I not made that one decision. Honestly, I am awestruck.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries and dozens of letters home to family and friends.

So, on February 12, 1976 I was taken to Provo and it began.  I wrote on Page 1 of the first of my many journals about this event:

“Today was my first day.  It was really great. We had many inspiring talks and learned much about the mission and mission fields.  Elder Stewart Simons from Cyprus High and Elder Marc White from Murray were my fist companions. Elder Marc and I went to school together, so its a real blessing. Its been a tough, long, hot day, but a very meaningful one.I’m so grateful to serve the Lord.”

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

I learned from both Elder Simons and Elder White.  It was nice to have one of them as someone I knew.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  Later on in Japan, Elder White became my zone leader and we grew very close.  We have stayed in touch casually over the years.  He was a real blessing to me.

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT (L-R: Sister ?, Elder Bartholomew, Elder Bateman, Elder White, Elder Call, Elder Hadley, Elder Simons, Sister Hawley and me)

I was one of many in the group to enter the LTM that day.  The LTM was in an old Catholic School in Provo that the Church had purchased.  This was before the days of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and just shortly after the days of the Japanese LTM being in Hawaii.

In my District I had four other Elders including Elder Bartholomew from Rancho Palace Verdes, CA; Elder Bateman from Edmonton, AB; Elder Hadley from Sandy, UT (who I am still in contact with after all these years); and Elder Call from Heber City, UT. (see the photo above)

On February 14, 1976 I wrote: “I am so happy that I’m here at this time to be able to work together with other elders and learn Japanese and the Gospel of our loving Father. The LTM is really an experience with 20 elders to a room, two districts to a room. I am really learning to love other elders. Especially those in my district and especially Elder White and Elder Simons. I’ve learned many new phrases and words.  Today we learned our testimony and a simple prayer.  I’m trying to memorize it, but its hard. I do have my testimony memorized.  I am praying muchly now so that I may be closer to the Lord.”

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

I could go on and on about the experience in the LTM.  It was a learning experience in so many ways. But, eventually it was over and on April 13, 1976 we all left for Nagoya, Japan.  I had never been on a 747 and never flown overseas. (I’ll actually write more about this on my Countdown Day #173).

During my missionary days I served in the Japan Sea side towns of Kanazawa, Fukui and Takaoka, as well as in Ogaki (near Gifu – where my daughter Amaree served part of her mission in 2001 and 2002), Nagoya and the lovely town of Fuji City at the base of Mt. Fuji.

I met an extraordinary number of wonderful Japanese Latter-day Saints and myriads of other lovely Japanese people.  I learned about Buddhism and Shintoism.  I learned and excelled at the language.  It was a wonderful experience.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Following are a few more photos from my mission.  I have hundreds. My first “selfie” is also included. My mission was a blessing in my life in so many years.  I am humbled and grateful to be celebrating the 40th Anniversary of beginning this amazing adventure and am really touched by all of the sweet memories flowing through my mind as I reflect back.

A few years ago we had a Missionary Reunion in Salt Lake City and I was able to catch up with many of those with whom I served during my two years from 1976-78.  It was wonderful to catch up with them and see where their lives had taken them. Some have been very successful, others not so much.  Some of those with whom I served have gone inactive or even left the LDS Church.  These things happen.  But, I cherish the friendships and, even today, stay in touch with many of these former missionaries (Thank you Facebook!!), even those that are no longer associated with the church.  A mission does amazing things to one’s life.

Always writing and pondering.

Always writing and pondering. Ogaki, Japan 1977

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976 (Dig those 70’s era neckties!!)

Riding a train - an almost daily occurrence in Japan

Riding a train – an almost daily occurrence in Japan

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters - just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters – just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

Street "Dendo" (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

Street “Dendo” (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends over the years. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

 

Countdown 365: #247 – Benson Matthews

Benson and Grampz September 2015

Benson and Grampz September 2015

Today is my grandson Benson’s birthday. This little guy has been amazing in his young four years of life!

Little Bensi was born with a heart defect and ended up having to have a couple of surgeries in the very early days of his life in order to save him. Ultimately he had changes to his heart so that he would be able to live and grow and that he has done for sure! And boy does he have a heart!!

Benson just before his heart surgery in 2012

Brave Benson just before his heart surgery in 2012

Benson July 2015

Benson July 2015

Always smiling!

Always smiling!

The first couple of years for Benson have not been easy but he made it through.  And, unless you knew that he had already had an operation, you would never be able to tell by the way he acts, plays, or interacts with other people.

Unfortunately, because they live so far away, I have not been able to spend as much time with him or his brothers and sister as I would like. But we have had a couple of occasions where we were able to spend a good amount of time and last summer (2015) we got to spend 10 days in Washington with them.  What a fabulous time we had and what a joy it was to get to know Benson.

Benson Matthews 2015

Benson Matthews 2015

Benson with his Dad Aaron

Benson with his Dad Aaron

Cuddling with Benson

Cuddling with Benson

During our visit, I was able to see each of the grandchildren and was able to sit on a chair and cuddle with Benson.  I spent time reading him books and getting to know this young grandchild of mine.  Not shy at all, he would cuddle with me for an hour or two as I read, told jokes and played with him.

Benson is a sharp little boy and he also has an endearing smile. One might think that he is shy, but he certainly is not. He is very amenable to new people and new environments 9as far as I could tell).

As for his heart defect, I saw no evidence of it when we went to the beach as he ran hard and jumped into the water like his sister and brothers did. He was all about collecting seashells, little rocks, and digging big holes in the sand.

Jumping and running...Benson is unstoppable

Jumping and running…Benson is unstoppable

Fun with Grampz 2015

Fun with Grampz 2015

Climbing Away

Climbing Away

And he is not fearless either. He climbs playground equipment without a problem.

Benson is truly a blessing to my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of his parents and siblings. He is an example of courage and strength, and this despite his youthful four years of age.

Don’t get me wrong however. He can be a true four year old.  It is not beyond him to  be a prankster (like his mother!) and can be a little troublemaker. He may be angelic but sometime he’s not really an angel. Nevertheless, he is fun to watch and to be around. And for this, I am grateful that Benson is a part of my life and my posterity.

 

Benson in 2013

Benson in 2013

Benson and a budgie at Tacoma Zoo 2015

Benson and a budgie at Tacoma Zoo 2015

Always mother's little helper

Always mother’s little helper

Countdown 365: #256 – Amaree Matthews

AmareeJan8136 years ago Julianne and I were living in a small little rental house in Flagstaff, AZ. At the time, I was working for a retail outlet called TG&Y and preparing to get into college at Northern Arizona University.

We knew that she would be having our first child any day and January 21, 1980 was the day! Back then, we did not know what the gender of our child would be, but that was no dilemma for us as we were excited to just have our first child and to grow our little family.

 

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

Amaree was born into a home full of love and hope.  As we sought for a name, we decided to create an amalgamation of Julianne’s parents who were Arlene and Maury. Thus, Amaree.

Amaree was a cute little baby and brought loads of joy to her mother and father. We had a nice chair that I sat in and I would hold her and rock her to sleep on my shoulder. I can still remember those tender moments from 36 years ago as they were so special to me to be holding my first child in my arms and singing songs and rocking her to sleep.

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

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

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

Little did we know that she would be the first of three daughters in a little under four years. But she was always the oldest and set a good example for her two younger sisters Marissa and Chelsea.

Julianne and I were blessed to see this beautiful little girl blossom into a young lady over the years. She always had a beautiful smile and almost always was in a happy go lucky mood.

Amaree was our little singer. Her sweet voice always brought joy to our hearts and as she matured her sweet voice turned into a wonderful voice such that she eventually was in All -State Chorus and even had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe as a select vocalist.  Ultimately, she received a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky in music.

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

Like all of our children, Amaree worked hard and saved her money. She learned to drive and didn’t cause too many problems though we had a couple of scrapes with car issues. But what parents don’t with their children?

Amaree has always been a very spiritual person and his lived the gospel as strongly as she can throughout her life. Indeed, she has been a excellent example to her mother and father in faith and strength. As her father, sometimes I am awestruck by her spirituality because, honestly, I do not believe that I was able to teach that to her.

Amaree in an ad in Japan in the early 1990s

Amaree in a department store ad in Japan in the early 1990s

Amaree in France during her chorus days

Amaree in France during her chorus days

Amaree and I not only share a relationship as a father and daughter, but we also share something special as we both served our LDS missions in Japan and even in the same area of Japan. Indeed, the first baptism that she attended while on her mission in Japan was the son of a girl that I taught on my mission who eventually joined the church after I was transferred away. However, unlike her father, Amaree already had the language down as we had lived in Japan for 4 1/2 years and she went to Japanese public school.

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

One of Amaree's photos near her high school graduation

One of Amaree’s photos near her high school graduation

The difficult thing about writing a post about any of my children is that I have thousands of fleeting memories and hundreds of beautiful photos of each of them. And Amaree certainly fits that mold.

I am truly grateful that Amaree has had a chance to travel the world and travel the United States and see and experience things that many people her age never have the opportunity to do. She has been on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and been on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, more so than even her father.

As she has grown older she has eventually blossomed into a beautiful woman and married a fine young man. She and her husband Aaron have brought forth four lovely children. But their lives have not been without problems and challenges as one of the children has had health problems, they’ve had job struggles, Aaron lost his mother. But they have carried on in faith and have been blessed because of that.

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

Amaree with her brand new husband in 2005 at the Cardston, Alberta LDS Temple

Amaree with her brand new husband in 2005 at the Cardston, Alberta LDS Temple

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Dancing with Amaree

Dancing with Amaree

As a first child, Amaree will always have a special place in my heart. I learned about parenting from her. I learned how to deal with the challenges of raising a child starting with her. I experienced the joys of parenthood as a result of her coming into the world.

I cannot write this post about Amaree without one fun story. Early on, we decided that we would give her a middle name, though it was more of a joke. Julianne had an uncle named Oscar and so we decided that we would give Amaree the middle name of Oscar need her initials would be AOK. But, she grew up in the age of Sesame Street and Oscar was a grouchy old guy that lived in a garbage can and was known on Sesame Street as “Oscar the Grouch.” Amaree has never liked being known as Amaree Oscar, but every so often she will admit that she is AOK because indeed she is! (Ironically, her son Charles was given Oscar as a middle name!)

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

A stunning shot of Amaree in October 2014. Absolutely AOK!!

A stunning shot of Amaree in October 2014. Absolutely AOK!!

I am grateful for this sweet girl who will always be my dear baby Amaree.

 

2015 In Review: People, Friends, Family and More

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015The world is filled with people. And people enrich our lives. I have never written a post in the past just focused on the people in influences that they’ve had in my life. Any of my post to be included comments about people and it includes my life, but over the year 2015 I found it I had many people that had a profound and positive impact on my life and I wanted to make note of that in this post.

Hanging with daughter Amaree and her husband Aaron in Washington, Aug 2015

Hanging with daughter Amaree and her husband Aaron in Washington, Aug 2015

I was blessed to spend time with all of my children and grandchildren
at one time or another this year. That is probably the best and most
blessed of all of my people experiences. But there were many others, both old and newly made friends, and other people who I met along the road of life during the year.

All of these people added to the great year I experienced in 2015.

With newly minted son-in-law Jorge Mendez

With newly minted son-in-law Jorge Mendez

Hanging with daughter Marissa on one of our trips in 2015

Hanging with daughter Marissa on one of our trips in 2015

Smile Man in Seattle

Smile Man in Seattle

I think of the stranger that I met on the streets of Seattle who stood on the corner holding a sign that you said smile be happy. He was not seeking donations. He was not seeking welfare. He was wanting people to smile. He kind of became a symbol for my year.

I made some new friends and acquaintances over the year. Some of these are artists or authors and I was able to enjoy and appreciate them.

Sumoflam with Rob Roy in 2015

Sumoflam with Rob Roy in 2015

One of these was former Navy seal and Author Rob Roy. I noted on more than one occasion how his book the Navy seal art of war inspired me and help me on my path to a more healthful life.

Then there is my friend the musician Pete Huttlinger. He too inspired me with his current. A great guitarist and musician who has performed over the years with John Denver and many others, Pete has suffered from a heart defect that almost caused him to lose his life. With his
wife Erin, they have struggled and he is come back. This year he to wrote a book with his wife, it is inspiring and I can’t wait to dig into it. And, as I do I will listen to his inspiring music as well.

Pete Huttlinger

Pete Huttlinger

With pal Kevin Twitchell at Woodflock 2015

With pal Kevin Twitchell at Woodflock 2015

During the summer, beginning in May, I had wonderful opportunities to travel to San Francisco and up to Red Bluff, CA and visit with many old friends that are associated with my very close friend Antsy McClain. This was my first venture to Woodflock and many of the people that were in attendance were people whom I had met in the past or who I became very good friends with over Facebook as a result of my association with the band.

Along with too many friends there, I got to get back together with Antsy’s saxophone and slide guitar player Bruce Wandmayer. Bruce is
himself, a wonderful person and a fabulous musician. On this occasion I also got to meet with his wife who, during the event, did morning
meditation. And really took me to another level as I listen to her. She is one of those people that brings peace to you just speaking and mingling with her.

Hanging with good friend Bruce Wandmayer

Hanging with good friend Bruce Wandmayer

With Carla and Ione in Santa Rosa, CA

With Carla and Ione in Santa Rosa, CA

And this trip also introduced me to a wonderful host and sweet person
in Carla Lockwood. Known as Christmas Carla because she was born on Christmas Day, she picked me up and took me for three days to stay at her place and then took me up to Red Bluff. We traveled parts of San Francisco and then parts of north-central California on our way and enjoyed sightseeing and mixing and mingling with each other along the way. She and her good friend Ione Snyder, whom I have known for a number of years, were great hosts and so kind to me. I won’t soon forget the happiness and the good times we spent together during my time in California in May.

Carla and Ione give old Sumoflam a kiss at Woodflock 2015

Carla and Ione give old Sumoflam a kiss at Woodflock 2015

At that time I also got to spend time and meet with a number of other people. The Flamingoheads, as they are known, are a great group of people. I am thankful to be associated with them. Here are just a few pictures of me with some of my Flamingohead family.

With Jacque and James Ferreira

With Jacque and James Ferreira

Good friend and official "teaser of Sumoflam" Kathy Aspinwall

Good friend and official “teaser of Sumoflam” Kathy Aspinwall

Men with Hats...my pal from Cal...Ed Townsend

Men with Hats…my pal from Cal…Ed Townsend

And we did dance because we wanted to...with MATCHING HATS!

And we did dance because we wanted to…with MATCHING HATS!

Can't forget Uncle Fred...one of my good California friends. He took me back to the airport and we had a fabulous time!

Can’t forget Uncle Fred…one of my good California friends. He took me back to the airport and we had a fabulous time!

Woodflock

Woodflock 2015

With Johnny Mac at Sundance Resort in Utah

With Johnny Mac at Sundance Resort in Utah

Through my association with Rob Roy, as I noted above, I was able to go to Utah and participate in one of his training sessions as a photographer. That program was interesting in and of itself, but along the way I got to spend some time both in Lexington and in Utah with John MacLaren, another former Navy Seal. Johnny Mac, as he is known to many of his close friends, has been a trainer to the stars and to many others. My first meeting with him was in Lexington as I picked him up at the airport when he arrived in June for the Great
American Fitness Challenge. His first words to me were “are you from Utah or Idaho?” That was a shocker, but he was able to pick up on the slight accent that I had from Utah, as he too, was a graduate of high school in Utah. He has an intensity about him, but also a very peaceful and pleasant demeanor. It was good to meet an individual like him. Not all military or former military people are hard-nosed.

With high school friend Jonathan Jensen at Sundance

With high school friend Jonathan Jensen at Sundance

With high school friend Russ Graves in Murray, UT

With high school friend Russ Graves in Murray, UT

During my trip to Utah, I was honored and excited to spend a littlebit of time with my very close high school friends Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. I wrote a blog post in detail about that visit, but just want to show them again here. Both of them had a profound impact on my life in the direction my life took after high school.I owe them a great deal in terms of setting my life in the right direction. I will eternally be indebted to these two great men, both of them strong members of the LDS Church and great leaders. Yet, also very good friends.

Then there are the people that you meet in every day life. A couple of these people have become good acquaintances. And I want to point them out in this post because in their own ways they too have had an impact on my life just as the examples they set.

schmoozing with my pal Joe Seebold at Valvoline

Schmoozing with my pal Joe Seebold at Valvoline

 

One of these is Joe Seebold. Joe,is a good-natured car repairman. The manager of an oil change place, I have been associated with him for a few years. But it’s always great to speak to him about things other than car repair. And, over the last couple of years Joe and I have become good friends. Not through religion, not through common beliefs. But because we’re people and we enjoy each others company and that’s what is important.

 

Sumoflam with Asian Bistro's JJ Chen

Sumoflam with Asian Bistro’s JJ Chen

 

This past year, Julianne and I begin frequenting a restaurant near our house. The Asian Bistro Express is a great little Chinese place. The gal that runs the place with her husband is JJ Chen and as we have frequented the eatery, we have become friends with her as well. It’s nice to speak with them about things other than their food or their restaurant. Nice to learn about where they’re from, and what they do, what their goals are, about their children, etc. (They have a cute little girl in 4th or 5th grade). We all share a common trait in this world and that is we live life.

 

Visiting Al Luminum and his Airstream on a 2015 visit to Lexington.

Visiting Al Luminum and his Airstream on a 2015 visit to Lexington.

Over the last couple of years I have become Facebook friends with folks near and far, many whom I have not met in person.  But, occasionally there is the unique opportunity to meet some of them.  One of these goes by the name Al Luminum (not his real name).  Al is an Airstream Gypsy with his family.  They travel the country in their Airstream and live off of a rental property income and who knows what else.  In the winter you can find him and his family staying in the quiet of the desert and in the summers they may be up north in any of dozens of locales.  On one occasion they pulled into Lexington, where they stayed in a church parking lot. He gave me a ping in Facebook and I went over and finally met them all in person.  What a delightful family!

I left the visit with envy as they travel freely in this beautiful country…something that I wish I could do full time!

Alex and his Ukranian friends at Fat Smitty's

Alex and his Ukranian friends at Fat Smitty’s

On another occasion I was with the family in Washington and we ventured into a unique eatery called Fat Smitty’s (see my blog post about this quirky place), near Port Townsend.  I was in there taking photos and there were three Russians (Ukranians actually) enjoying a wonderful Fat Smitty burger. One of them, named Alex, noted, “You must be famous,” to which I replied, “In my own mind!”  I sat down with them and asked if I could do a selfie with them.  Turns out these guys were from Ukraine and were in the area working.  Alex and his friends were great!  You never know who you can meet in this wide world.

Meeting Nelson Campbell, Director of Plant Pure Nation

Meeting Nelson Campbell, Director of Plant Pure Nation

Julianne and I meet with acclaimed author Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Julianne and I meet with acclaimed author Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Then, as many of you may know, Julianne and I have strived to change to a healthier eating lifestyle.  We have moved predominantly to a Whole Food Plant-Based regimen.  She has been more perfect at it than I, but I too am trying!  As a result of this effort we had a unique opportunity to go to an advance screening of the Documentary Movie called “Plant Pure Nation” back in April (see my review of the movie) Nelson Campbell, son of the acclaimed T. Colin Campbell (author of “The China Study“) was there. We met Dr. T. Colin Campbell as well, along with the Producer John Corry, who also happened to produce another famed documentary called “Forks Over Knives.”

Meeting joe Cross, of 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" fame in Louisville

Meeting Joe Cross, of  “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” fame in Louisville

Along the same lines, a few weeks later, we met another famed Whole Foods Plant Based proponent in Joe Cross, who produced the movie “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and has also authored a number of books on whole fruit/veggie juicing. (See my post about this)  We picked up his new book, which has some great inspirational stories that helped me out.  His talk was great and he was very understanding of the plight of big people.

I consider myself blessed to meet people like Nelson Campbell and Joe Cross, both of whom are on a mission to get people to eat healthier and live better, happier and healthful lives.  Yes, they may be famous in their realms, but it is not the fame that they desire as much as the ability to help others.

Sumoflam with Santa Claus in Santa Claus, IN

Sumoflam with Santa Claus in Santa Claus, IN

Speaking of famous folks, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with one Jolly old elf in the small town of Santa Claus, IN just a week before Christmas.  The town was named after this guy and he looked like the REAL one….hmmm… I wonder.  He did know some stuff about me and about my grandkids….

Yes, he did tell me I was nice (and NOT naughty like some in my family may have tried to lead others to believe!)

Meeting with Solar Guru john Schaeffer

Meeting with Solar Guru john Schaeffer

While in California on the road with Carla (mentioned above), we stopped at Real Goods Solar in Hopland, CA. Quite the quirky place (see my post about it), it was perfect for the travel writer in me.  While there I had the chance meeting of the founder and proprietor John Schaeffer. He was also the author of the Solar Living Sourcebook, a book I had procured back in1990 while working with Asahi Solar in Japan. It was a great opportunity to meet one of the founders of solar energy in the US.  I left with a smile, a great photo and a new, signed copy, of his book.

Julianne and I with Tregoney on the Wicked set in Louisville

Julianne and I with Tregoney on the Wicked set in Louisville

 

In November we had the great chance to go to Louisville and attend the Broadway traveling musical “Wicked” (see my post and review).  It was especially meaningful since Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd was a performer in this musical.  As a result, we were also afforded the opportunity to go backstage and see the props and learn more about the entire production.  Tregoney also came over to our house on Thanksgiving and the three of us went out to a wonderful catered dinner.

 

Antsy and Sumoflam at the SOLD OUT show in the intimate Downtowne Listening Room in Cincinnati

Antsy and Sumoflam at the SOLD OUT show in the intimate Downtowne Listening Room in Cincinnati in April 2015

Of course, I have to note my good friend Antsy McClain.  A week doesn’t go by when we are not talking.  He is like a brother to me in so many ways.  It is wonderful to have a close friend who is also a musician, story teller, amazing artist.  We have been friends since our first meeting in 1992 at an auto plant in Kentucky. Much has happened to both of us since that time.  I am grateful for friends like Antsy McClain!

I have seen him go from a newbie in the business into a world traveling musician.  I have met many wonderful musicians who have since become friends, as a result of my friendship with Antsy.  I have seen his family grow as well.  Accomplished musicians and artists in their own right.

IN MEMORIUM 2015

MemoriumAs I get older there are those that pass on before me. Seems like the older I get the more I am seeing of my friends and acquaintances making the journey home. The year 2015 was no different as I lost a dear brother in law, a couple of friends and a couple of Facebook friends who I had become well-acquainted with but never got to meet in person.  I want to remember these folks as well.  They too had an influence in my life, if even minimal.

Ultimately, our lives are canvasses and every individual we meet adds their little piece of color to our complex life portrait.  I am grateful for the relationships as they all enrich my life.

Jamie Showkeir - August 16, 1952 - August 16, 2015

Jamie Showkeir – August 16, 1952 – August 16, 2015

Jamie Showkeir was my brother-in-law and mentor and was a down to earth solidly wonderful individual.  I wrote about him on his passing (see my post). He passed away after a year long struggle with the devastating disease known as ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  He knew from the outset that his days were numbered.  But he chose to deal with it rather than to let it deal with him. Jamie left a positive impact on 100s of people, including me.  He was a mentor to me (and he didn’t even know it!) Three or four times I called him for advice due to his wisdom of the business world. (He and his wife Maren, my wife’s sister, had authored two books).  I miss Jamie.

Dan "Photoman" Smith - Aug. 5, 1959 - June 16, 2015

Dan “Photoman” Smith – Aug. 5, 1959 – June 16, 2015

I first met Dan online through Facebook around 2010.  We shared many common interests, especially our love of photography in the Lexington area.  I had a couple of opportunities to finally meet him.  The first time we met was at Jacobson Lake, a favorite photographic stomping grounds for both of us.  He was out shooting a sunrise and I walked up and said “Hey Photoman!” and surprised him.  He knew me because of my Facebook photos. From then we met for breakfast a couple of times.   Dan was one of those who ended up losing a job and worked at a call center.  Photography and writing were his passions. He was a libertarian at heart. I am glad to have had the pleasure of his association over the years.  Dan collapsed into a coma in mid 2015 and never fully recovered. I am sure he is enjoying the heavenly sunrises.

Phil J. Norris - Dec. 3, 1962 - Dec. 29, 2015

Phil J. Norris – Dec. 3, 1962 – Dec. 29, 2015

I never got to meet Phil in person, but we had become Facebook friends back in 2013.  He was an avid Antsy McClain fan and friended me through the Flamingohead Family group. Our last communication was on my birthday, Oct. 4, in 2015.  We both lamented that we had not yet had the opportunity to get together.  He was in Idaho and I was in Kentucky.  We had chatted via Facebook Messenger weekly with our many common interests of family, LDS Church (he had served an LDS mission but later went inactive), Antsy McClain, Aussie musician Pauly Zarb (another good friend of mine) and grandkidz. Like my friend Dan, Phil went into a sudden coma in December, slipped out of it for a day or two and then back into it  He succumbed on Dec. 29 to the dismay of many of his family, Facebook friends and Flamingohead cousins.  I will miss our nice chats.