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

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.

 

Countdown 365: #268 – Olivia Matthews, Grandchild #6

imageToday is the 6th birthday of my 6th grandchild, Olivia Matthews, 3rd child of my oldest daughter Amaree.

All of my grandchildren are special to me and each brings a different personality to the world. But there is really something endearing about Livvy, as she is called by her family.

Maybe it’s that she is the only girl and has grown up fighting her way with 2 older brothers and another younger one. Or maybe it’s her God-given personality, but little Livvy is delightfully spunky, independently fearless and yet has a smile that melts the heart.

Hanging with the Matthews grandkidz, including Livvy

Hanging with the Matthews grandkidz, including Livvy

imageIt saddens me that we live so far away from the Matthews family. We rarely get to see this brood. But, last July we were blessed with the opportunity to spend 10 days with them in Washington and I got to see the blooming of this flowery sweet Livvy.

Indeed, we had visited her in the past when they lived in Montana. But she was still young (yet wickedly spunky even then – in a good sense).

But the trip to Washington really let us see her independent and strong-willed character. I saw that, despite her age, she is a force to reckon with as far as her brothers are concerned.

With Grandkidz in Seattle, summer 2015

With Grandkidz in Seattle, summer 2015

imageLivvy loves butterflies and Orca whales. And like a butterfly, she is gracefully and colorfully flies through life. I sat on the beach in Neah Bay and watched her and her brothers play in a pool of water. Her brothers would run and barely jump in. She would LEAP with gusto time and again, fearless as an orca. I was amazed at her gutsiness — especially as a five year old girl.

Despite her fierce independence, Livvy is still a girl and she loves girly things. Dressed up for church she looks beautiful and her big eyes and bright smile certainly delights the soul of anyone that catches a glimpse of her.

Livvy

Livvy

Livvy is cure in braids

Livvy is cute in braids

She loves getting her hair braided and Amaree strives to get creative with Livvy’s Goldilocks blonde hair.

Livvy is sharp as a new knife and is quick-witted like her Grampz. She has a propensity to tease her brothers and she carries out her plans with excellent precision.

 

 

Livvy will be a leader and show the way

Livvy will be a leader and show the way

imageHonestly, I can see Livvy growing up to be a company CEO, an attorney or even a politician. She has that kind of powerful character.

I love and adore little Livvy. She is most certainly one of my greatest blessings. I am so grateful she is a part of my life and only wish that I could spend more time with this delightful child of God.

Following are a few more of my favorite shots of her.

Livvy and Grammy

Livvy and Grammy

Livvy running on the beach to prep for a leap into the pond

Livvy running on the beach to prep for a leap into the pond

Livvy is a loving sister, here with her older brother Charles

Livvy is a loving sister, here with her older brother Charles

Livvy and brothers having fun with Mom

Livvy and brothers having fun with Mom

Leaping in with gusto

Leaping in with gusto

Livvy loves to learn new things. Learning to sew at age 5

Livvy loves to learn new things. Learning to sew at age 4

Goldilocks

Goldilocks

Livvy - the sand dollar collector

Livvy – the sand dollar collector

Pumpkin picking with little brother Benson

Pumpkin picking with little brother Benson

She and her brothers turn their Mom "Inside Out"

She and her brothers turn their Mom “Inside Out”

Livvy's smile will warm your heart and melt your soul

Livvy’s smile will warm your heart and melt your soul

Countdown 365: #291 – Landen Noe – Grandchild #5

Landen NoeToday (Dec. 17, 2015) is the 7th birthday of my 5th grandchild, Landen Noe. He was the fulfillment of his grandmother’s dream to have a red-headed grandchild. Landen is our little “super hero mach man.”

Over these past seven years it has been a joy to watch this little guy develop his unique and fun personality. In the past two years he has really come into his own and it has been great!

Landen has always loved the “boy” things.  We have, at times, teased him with “girl things” and he flat out refuses.  He will not wear anything that is pink.  There has to be blue in it or green. He is very specific that way.

Landen as a young guy a couple of years ago. Always a cutie!

Landen as a young guy a couple of years ago. Always a cutie!

Landen and sister Joselyn

Landen and sister Joselyn

Despite his boyish character, Landen also has a very soft side.  He can be very loving and affectionate.  He takes great care of his older and younger sisters Joselyn and Lyla.

He is at that age where he has learned the difference between being “tough” and being “loving.”  I think that inside, he has the propensity for being the “loving guy” rather than the “tough guy.” But he will always try to make sure that the “tough guy” persona shows, at least outwardly.

Landen the artist

Landen the artist

Roughhousing with Landen

Roughhousing with Landen

I count it as a real blessing that Landen lives so close and that we can spend a lot of time together.  In Lexington, I am basically surrounded by granddaughters (which are wonderful, mind you).  I have three grandsons in Washington and then two more who will be leaving for Houston at the end of December 2015. So, Landen is the only “rough house” grandchild I have to play with.

Like his sisters, Landen has grown up with a photographer mother who takes every opportunity to capture memories (many of the photos in this post are actually taken by Marissa — and I stole them!)  As a result, Landen has learned the art of photography modeling at his young age and there are some darling photos of this young chap that really show his personality. Following are a few:

Landen loving on his mother Marissa

Landen loving on his mother Marissa

Tough Guy Landen -- the super hero

Tough Guy Landen — the super hero

Patriotic Landen on Veteran's Day 2015

Patriotic Landen on Veteran’s Day 2015

Landen and Lyla in 2014

Landen and Lyla in 2014

Landen enjoying the ocean with his Dad Adam

Landen enjoying the ocean with his Dad Adam

Sensitive Landen showing affection to a chick

Sensitive Landen showing affection to a chick

Classy and sassy

Classy and sassy

Having fun with Grandma and Grampz

Having fun with Grandma and Grampz

Joy of youth in 2012 (I think)

Joy of youth in 2012 (I think)

Landolph the Red-nosed Reinboy

Landolph the Red-nosed Reinboy

Landen and Grampz after a 5K walk in June 2015

Landen and Grampz before a 5K walk in June 2015

Heading to first grade!

Heading to first grade!

Spunky Landen at the movies with Grampz, his sister and his cousin Autumn

Spunky Landen at the movies with Grampz, his sister and his cousin Autumn

Landen4

Landen as captured by Priscilla Baierlein (see www.priscillabphotography.com)

Landen is truly a blessing in my life and brings me great joy and happiness.  On one hand he can play rough with me (which I love), but on the other hand, he can snuggle with me and read a good book.

He is a sweet joyful boy that brings a smile to anybody that meets him. His heartwarming personality will do him wonders as he grows and matures.

I am indeed grateful for this young spark of energy and joy in my life! Grandkidz Rock!

Countdown 365: #300 – Only 300 Days To 60

keep-calm-only-300-days-to-goI celebrate life and today I am only 300 days away from 6 decades of it.Officially, I am in my 21,615th day of life.  In my 365 day countdown of my blessings, I have set aside days 300, 200 and 100 to celebrate portions of my life,  Can’t we celebrate our own lives?

In this “300 Days To Go” edition I want to look waaaay back at my youth.  I want my children and grandchildren to see that the “Happy Grampz” of 2015 was also a “Happy Kid” in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A slide from about 1964 or 1965

A slide from about 1964 or 1965

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to dig through a stash of old photos and old slides (for those of you in the digital age, a “slide” was color-reversal film used from the 1930s to the 1980s mainly…and production was discontinued completely in 2010…  Known as Kodachrome — like the Paul Simon song — or Ektachrome, there was also Anscochrome, made the company Ansco until the 1980s.)  These were slides that my dad had kept.  He was an avid photographer and preferred slide film over regular film because it lasted longer and had better colors.

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

These old slides were a treasure trove of memories, as were the numerous photos I was able to scan from three photo albums that came with them.  I gleaned a few of the photos from them, along with some I have had and wanted to share my early life in this post…if only for a few fleeting photographic moments (since I don’t really recall many of these times).  So, following are a few photos with some comments in the captions.

I have posted this before. It was given to me by my Laurienzo family and is the earliest known photo, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born.

I have posted this before. It was given to me by my Laurienzo family and is the earliest known photo, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born. This was taken in Cleveland, OH, my birthplace

A baby photo of me probably from Albuquerque in 1957

A baby photo of me probably from Albuquerque in 1957

Another 1957 photo of me

Another 1957 photo of me

A photo from 1959 (could be 1958 -- heck, I don't remember!!)

A photo from 1958 (could be 1957 — heck, I don’t remember!!)

A photo definitely from 1959 (the photo edge said so). I love this one...peeking out of the old car

A photo definitely from 1959 (the photo edge said so). I love this one…peeking out of the old car

Another one from 1958 maybe? Even back then I liked goofy hats!

Another one from 1958 maybe? Even back then I liked goofy hats!

March 1959 apparently. Playing with a cat in Albuquerque. Love seeing the old cars in the background....provides some perspective

March 1959 apparently. Playing with a cat in Albuquerque. Love seeing the old cars in the background….provides some perspective

A photo of me from 1958 when we took a trip to New York.

A photo of me from 1958 when we took a trip to New York.  I believe that his was in Coney Island.

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

Donning the cowboy boots in 1959

Donning the cowboy boots in 1959 (My grandson Charles looks a lot like me in this pic!!)

Another shot from New York in 1957

Another shot from New York in 1957

Many of the pictures I have are with my brothers Aaron and Danny.  Danny was only two weeks younger than me.  His mother Marge married my dad in October 1962, shortly after I turned 6.

With my brothers Aaron and Danny, probably in late 1962 or early 1963 in Albuquerque

With my brothers Aaron and Danny, probably in late 1962 or early 1963 in Albuquerque

Hanging around with my brothers Danny and Aaron in 1963.

Hanging around with my brothers Danny and Aaron in 1963.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1965 or 1966

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I love this photo of us, likely in Jemez Springs, NM

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I love this photo of us, likely in Jemez Springs, NM in 1964

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I am assuming this was at Sandia overlook near Albuquerque in 1963 or 1964

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I am assuming this was at Sandia overlook near Albuquerque in 1963 or 1964

Finally, a few more “happy go lucky” shots of me as a youthful adventurer!

Posing on a rock in the early 1960s

Posing on a rock in the early 1960s

Mischievous me - 1957 in New York

Mischievous me – 1957 in New York

Showing off the guns and six-pack in 1964

Showing off the guns and six-pack in 1964

Stylishly climing a tree in 1963 or 1964

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964

Another photo of me in a tree, probably 1964

Another photo of me in a tree, probably 1964

A balancing act

A balancing act

Climbing rocks with Danny

Climbing rocks with Danny

Staying warm in the cold mountain air

Staying warm in the cold mountain air

We all can hopefully look back on our lives and see the blessings and joys that we had.  As look back on these decades old photos, many of which I had never seen until last year, I truly count my blessings of having many happy childhood moments (even if I don’t remember them!!)

 

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

Joe Kravetz with David, ca. 1959

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

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

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

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

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

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

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

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

JoeKKindergaten1938a

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz in fifth grade in 1944.

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

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

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

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

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

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz around 1959

Joe Kravetz around 1959

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherry and Gary with Dad in 1974

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto in 1990

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan in 1990

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

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

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

Joe with family in 1997 in Tarrytown, NY

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

Joe with kids at Cumberland Gap on Kentucky/Tennessee border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz in 2014

Joe Kravetz in 2014

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

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

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

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

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

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

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

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

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

Countdown 365: #310 – Wicked, The Musical

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

Ticket and Program for Wicked

Ticket and Program for Wicked

Over the Thanksgiving weekend Julianne and I, along with Marissa and Adam, were blessed with the opportunity to go to Louisville and enjoy the spectacle of the traveling Broadway performance of “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” which included parts performed by Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd.

I count this as one of my blessings as it is EXTREMELY rare for us to go to a Broadway production of this caliber…even if it is a National Tour production of one.  Tickets are pricey and getting there, etc., can be a hassle.

But we had to go to this one.  First of all, Julianne’s cousin was in it.  Tregoney is a Broadway actress and performer, an acting and voice coach and an all around fun person!

Julianne and I with Tregoney Shepherd on the Wicked stage after the performance

Julianne and I with Tregoney Shepherd on the Wicked stage after the performance

Tregoney Shepherd as Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables

Tregoney Shepherd as Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables

We were blessed to see her a few years ago when she came to Louisville in the National Tour of “Les Miserables,” where she played Madame Thenardier.  That too was an amazing performance.

More recently Tregoney was in the National Tour of “Mary Poppins” and has been in “Wicked” for the past few months.

(L to R) Blake Segal, Tregoney Shepherd, Rachel Wallace, Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst in “Mary Poppins” Photo: Deen Van Meer

(L to R) Blake Segal, Tregoney Shepherd, Rachel Wallace, Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst in “Mary Poppins”
Photo: Deen Van Meer

Another photo of Tregoney in Les Miz (photo courtesy tregoneyshepherd.com)

Another photo of Tregoney in Les Miz (photo courtesy tregoneyshepherd.com)

One of the Wicked trucks that carries all of the stage equipment

One of the Wicked trucks that carries all of the stage equipment

This post is not as much about Tregoney (though she DOES deserve one of her own…she is a real gem honestly), as it is about the AMAZING musical “Wicked.”

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. It is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, an alternative telling of the witches from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like most people my age, I grew up with this movie and have seen it dozens of times.

A stage scene from Wicked of the witches Glinda and

A stage scene from Wicked of the witches Glinda and Elphaba (photo from Louisville Courier-Journal)

The musical is told from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz; its plot begins before and continues after Dorothy’s arrival in Oz from Kansas and includes several references to the 1939 film and Baum’s novel. Wicked tells the story of two unlikely friends, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda, who struggle through opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, reactions to the Wizard’s corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba’s public fall from grace.

Wicked Stage Scene (photo: Stock Promo photo from Kentucky Center)

Wicked Stage Scene (photo: Stock Promo photo from Kentucky Center)

Seting at Wicked...5th row, with Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Seting at Wicked…5th row, with Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Like any Broadway production, the stage is spectacular and the costumes are phenomenal.  And, of course, the acting and singing are as good as it comes.  Thanks to Tregoney, we were able to land some great seats…5th row. We could almost touch the actors on stage.

The house was packed on this Saturday matinee version of the performance. The venue is a great place to watch a huge production like this…no matter where you sat.  But our seats were fantastic.

Sumoflam with the stage behind him... a giant dragon that has glowing red eyes and breathes smoke. The curtain is a map of Oz and the Emerald City.

Sumoflam with the stage behind him… a giant dragon that has glowing red eyes and breathes smoke. The curtain is a map of Oz and the Emerald City.

Scene from Wicked...Elphaba above the cast. Amazing

Scene from Wicked…Elphaba above the cast. Amazing (photo from a promo site about Wicked)

Everything about the musical really made it worth the trip and the price of the tickets. The props were very realistic.  One of the walls in one of the scenes was covered with vines.  It all looked so real (and, after our private backstage tour with Tregoney, we could see that they WERE real!!).  The show had some great scenes, but one of my favorites was of Elphaba flying high above the cast.  The lighting was like a burst of light coming from her.  It was classic!  Fortunately, I found a photo on the web from a promotional site that shows the scene (photos were strictly forbidden during the performance and even on the back stage tour).

Julianne and David in front of the Wizard of Oz prop from Wicked. This is the only prop allowed for photos.

Julianne and David in front of the Wizard of Oz prop from Wicked. This is the only prop allowed for photos.

After the performance, we were fortunate to get a backstage tour with Tregoney.  Honestly, this was almost as amazing as the performance.  We didn’t get to meet any of the actors, but we did get a unique look at all of the props, the stage floor and a close up look-see-feel of the costumes, all of which were obviously handmade and intricate. As noted, photos were not allowed.  Everything…the props, the costumes and even the makeup is copyrighted.

Tregoney explained that the green make-up used on Elphaba is all trademarked.  She may not leave the stage area with that make up on and close up photos of her are not allowed.

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis Photo by Joan Marcus 2015

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis
Photo by Joan Marcus 2015

We learned how the actors make their quick changes for scenes.  We saw the intricate and custom designed stage flooring that is carried from venue to venue.  It contains holes for the smoke and vents for fans to blow wind out for flowing hair and robes.

Glinda’s dress, as seen on the right, actually has a carabiner sewn into it to keep her attached to the floating props. These costumes are all very heavy and appear to be not too comfortable.  But, they are truly elaborate.  Seen up close you can see that no expense was spared.  The audience doesn’t see the complexity, but up close it is really amazing (sorry, running out of adjectives).

Stage shot with Tregoney, Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Stage shot with Tregoney, Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Overall, this was a wonderful experience for us and we are so appreciative of Tregoney who took the time to visit us on Thanksgiving Day and then to bless us with a feast for our eyes in Louisville.

Opportunities to enjoy the arts are a blessing.  The creativity of people is inspiring whether it be musicians, writers, actors or even set and costume designers.

I count it a blessing to be able to participate in opportunities like this.

And a final word…Wicked ends in Louisville on December 6.  But it will be in St. Louis and Kansas City in the near future.  There will be shows in California, Dallas and Houston coming later in 2016 as well.