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.

 

 

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.

Countdown 365: #312 – Thanksgiving Day

TDay14Thanksgiving Day is THE day for gratitude and thanks.  However, I have been “counting my blessings” daily and so I want to use Thanksgiving Day 2015 as a day of gratitude for THAT specific day as it turned out to be a wonderful day from stat to finish.

The day would prove to be a very busy one, but one filled with joy points, family gatherings, and lots of food and fun.

Early Morning full moon on Thanksgiving Morning

Early Morning full moon on Thanksgiving Morning

The full moon glowed opposite the sunrise

The full moon glowed opposite the sunrise

I actually started the day off early to make an early morning visit to my favorite sunrise viewing spot at Jacobson Lake, only a few miles from my house. The skies were partly cloudy and still dark as I made my way to the lake. The moon was bright and full.  The air was crisp at about 46 degrees, but it was beautiful.

Behind me the moon was full and still glowing at 7 AM.  In front of me the sky was filled with dozens of shades of pink and orange at dawn.  The sun still had to make its way up above the

A jet streaks across the sky before the sun made its way above the horizon

A jet streaks across the sky before the sun made its way above the horizon

horizon, but, was already lighting the sky.  A jet streaked across the sky with its contrails glowing orange.  Canadian geese welcomed the morning…some took flight, others took a morning swim in the cool waters of the lake.

For me, this was a glorious and magnificent way to start off my Thanksgiving Day.  I stood by the side of the lake with a heart filled with gratitude for the beauty of this earth and for the blessing of being able to experience it with all of my senses.  And photos honestly don’t do justice.  But, here are a few from this early morning experience.

A panorama shot of the lake and skies just before sunrise

A panorama shot of the lake and skies just before sunrise

Geese in flight overhead at dawn

Geese in flight overhead at dawn

Geese hit the water for an early morning swim. It is wonderful to see them glide into the lake in tandem

Geese hit the water for an early morning swim. It is wonderful to see them glide into the lake in tandem

The early morning sky was filled with color

The early morning sky was filled with color

Geese swim by as they await the grand entrance of the sun

Geese swim by as they await the grand entrance of the sun

The sun finally makes an appearance as it peeks through the clouds on the horizon

The sun finally makes an appearance as it peeks through the clouds and trees on the horizon

Here comes the sun (I can hear George Harrison's sweet voice)

Here comes the sun (I can hear George Harrison’s sweet voice)

Glorious Thanksgiving Sunrise

Glorious Thanksgiving Sunrise

I sat in awe, as I often do, watching the glorious sunrise, listening to the cackle of the geese, watching the blue herons snuggle with the bushes to stay warm in the early morning cool.

I was physically and emotionally revitalized and ready to pursue the exciting family events of the day.  This solitary time with camera, wildlife, clouds and sun is something I crave.  Yes, I love music in my ears and I work in front of a computer all day.  But THIS is escape for me.  I love the open roads for the same reason. The world is glorious and God’s creations are magnificent.  And, on Thanksgiving morning, it was almost like a private worship service for me.

Sunrise on Thanksgiving

Sunrise on Thanksgiving

Turkey in brine getting readied for the Big Green Egg experience

Turkey in brine getting readied for the Big Green Egg experience

I left with a full heart and headed back home.  I had already put wood chips out to soak in preparation for grilling and smoking a turkey on my Big Green Egg. Originally, Julianne and I had planned to just go to a catered buffet for Thanksgiving this year.  No fussing, no dirty dishes, etc.  Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd, who happened to be in Louisville as one of the performers in the traveling Broadway production of “Wicked,” would be joining us for this brunch.  But our daughter Chelsea made it known that she was having a big get together and wanted me to smoke a turkey on the BGE.  Soon, Julianne had volunteered to bring a “few” things as well. So much for the “non-cooking” day.

Got the Big Green Egg smoking

Got the Big Green Egg smoking

We prepped the turkey the night before by brining it with numerous herbs, etc.  This has traditionally been our way of doing a turkey for a few years.  When I got home I warmed up the BGE and got it smoking good.  I actually heated up the grill to about 700 degrees to clean off all of the stuff that had built up and then cooled it back down to about 250 as we prepped for the turkey.

These grills are fabulous because they have what they call the convEGGtor™  which provides for indirect Convection Cooking on the Big Green Egg.  These allow heat to efficiently radiate within the dome while preventing the flames and heat from over-cooking the food.  I put this in the grill and added the soaked Pecan wood chips and the grill was ready for the turkey!

FireintheHoleThese get nice and hot and provide a great balanced method of cooking almost anything.  We have cooked pizzas, veggies, pork loins, steaks, Portabello mushrooms and even cantaloupe on them.

You can see by the photo on the left that they are flaming and warm.

It was ready for the turkey!!

 

 

Turkey on the BGE

Turkey on the BGE

I opened the grill for a great shot of the BGE doing its job smoking.

I opened the grill for a great shot of the BGE doing its job smoking.

At Copper Roux with Tregoney

At Copper Roux with Tregoney

Once we had the grill going, it was time to get ready to head out with Tregoney for the Thanksgiving brunch.  We made arrangements with Bayou Bluegrass Catering, which offered a Thanksgiving Buffet that started at 11 AM at their Copper Roux facility. It was a nice experience and NO DISHES AND CLEANUP!

The Thanksgiving Buffet had many traditional offerings, but there were also some southern accented dishes such as their green beans with bacon, collard greens, Cajun spiced turkey and gravy, corn pudding and shrimp with grits. There were also many amazing desserts.

Salads aplenty at Copper Roux buffet

Salads aplenty at Copper Roux buffet

Enjoying buffet at Copper Roux

Enjoying buffet at Copper Roux

Some of the amazing desserts at the Copper Roux buffet

Some of the amazing desserts at the Copper Roux buffet

We left the Copper Roux fairly full.  I tried not to overdo it and I avoided the things I knew I would get at Chelsea’s later in the day.  We hurried home where I checked on the turkey, which was basically done.  Julianne prepped a couple more things for Chelsea’s shindig and then we all took some brief naps before heading to Chelsea’s at 5 PM for their festive Thanksgiving affair.

Ugh...an undesired Thanksgiving tradition continues with a trip to Kroger

Ugh…an undesired Thanksgiving tradition continues with a trip to Kroger

Over the past three to four years it has become an unfortunate Thanksgiving tradition that I end up making two to three trips to Kroger for forgotten or needed items.  Due to our advanced preparations and our going to the buffet, I figured for sure that I would not have to make a trip.  But alas, I ended up keeping this unwanted tradition….

Seems like there is always something that gets forgotten or is needed at the last minute.  This time it was creamed corn, pumpkin pie spice and aluminum foil.  Thank goodness it was a nice day!!

Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving "Turkey Hat"

Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving “Turkey Hat”

After the naps we were off to Chelsea’s.  Ultimately, there were going to be 30-40 people show up for this one.  Her husband Jorge and his brother Luis have an extended group of Mexican friends that are almost like family.  We have gotten to know many of them.  This was a mixture of American tradition with Mexican flair.  We brought our smoked turkey and there was a Mexican spiced turkey there as well.  Along with the pumpkin, pecan and apple pies, there was also a tres leches cake.  Chelsea also made this tasty warm fruity Mexican punch called “ponche” which was wonderful.

Mexican Ponche was delightful.

Mexican Ponche was delightful.

Our smoked turkey from the Big Green Egg

Our smoked turkey from the Big Green Egg

Mexican spiced turkey

Mexican spiced turkey

Some of the spread, including spicy deviled eggs with jalapenos

Some of the spread, including spicy deviled eggs with jalapenos

Chelsea's famed Googleberry Pie (actually using an old family recipe from my wife's family)

Chelsea’s famed Googleberry Pie (actually using an old family recipe from my wife’s family)

Thanksgiving Hat Fun with Tregoney, me, Julianne and Chelsea

Thanksgiving Hat Fun with Tregoney, me, Julianne and Chelsea

Pot of Ponche with pineapple, apples, raw sugar cane, and more.

Pot of Ponche with pineapple, apples, raw sugar cane, and more.

There was fun and music (Jorge set up his DJ equipment and we listened to Christmas music on the back deck drinking the ponche and enjoying the festivities in English and Spanish).

It is always fun to join Chelsea and her family friends.  Though there is a great deal of Spanish being spoken, we are still able to communicate.  We have been to so many of these that many of the friends are almost like family, giving us hugs when they visit.

Julianne and I typically leave before the REAL fun begins. Many of them have a few beers or some wine and the dance music begins.  They party and dance late into the night with traditional Bachata dancing and perhaps some other kinds.  They all know how to party hearty and it is all in good fun.

As for Julianne and I, we returned home, put the food away and crashed.  It was a long, yet wonderful Thanksgiving day.  Friday would bring family to the house for more family feasting and fun as our three children and their kids would spend the afternoon with us.

Truly grateful for Thanksgiving and the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends.

 

 

Countdown 365: #315 Holly Kravetz – Daughter-in-law

(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.)

Holly Kravetz

Holly Kravetz

Today is my daughter-in-law Holly’s birthday.  I only have one and she’s a keeper for darned sure!

Holly married our oldest son Seth back in December 2009.  Since that time, Holly and Seth have had two sons (Rockwell and Samuel), lived in Ohio and Connecticut, lived at home with us and with her parents at different times and soon they will be moving to Houston (in January 2016) as Seth takes on a new job.

She has blessed and enriched the life of our son Seth and has brought happiness and creativity into the Kravetz family.

A young Holly with her mother

A young Holly with her mother

Holly was born into a good family.  My wife and I have known the Walkers for many years, even way before we actually knew Holly. Tom and Mary have lived in Georgetown for long time and Holly ended up going to and graduating from Scott County High School, the football arch-rival of Seth’s Lafayette High School (which, by the way, beat Scott County last weekend to go to state semi-finals, the first time in 30 years!!).

My old man memory defies me as I can’t recall exactly how Seth and Holly met, but I think it was though the church Adult Singles branch that they both attended.

Seth and Holly Wedding Day

Seth and Holly Wedding Day

Seth and Holly

Seth and Holly

When Seth and Holly were married on Dec. 19, 2009, they had a unique style, most likely due to Holly’s wonderful creativity.  With their classy wedding clothes they and their entourage all wore Chuck Taylor basketball shoes.  It was unique and fun.

As is often the case, getting used to an “in-law” child is always a challenge. There is a learning curve involved.  They grew up in different family cultures, bring different traditions, styles and outlooks into a family.  But, ultimately, they become part of the family and we learn to adapt, learn to appreciate and, ultimately, learn to love them and what they bring to the family.

Holly has brought creativity and color to our family, even to the point of inspiring new things out of my wife.

Holly's Creativity

Holly’s Creativity

Holly's Creativity Part 2

Holly’s Creativity Part 2

Holly's Creativity Part 3

Holly’s Creativity Part 3

Holly's Creativity Part 4

Holly’s Creativity Part 4

Holly with Rockwell and Samuel

Holly with Rockwell and Samuel

Holly has also been a great mother to her son Rockwell.  We have seen him grow and learn.  Rockwell is a pleasant grandson and is always a joy to be around.  Much of this credit certainly must go to his mother Holly.  She is truly fond of her children and has been a good teacher. I am impressed at how bright and well-rounded he already is at 5 years old.  I can’t wait to see how his younger brother Samuel becomes.  I know Holly will continue to be a good mother and teacher.

As a father-in-law that absolutely loves spending time with his grandkids, I feel so blessed to have a daughter-in-law that cares so much about her children and strives to teach them well and help them become “little gentlemen.”  This is perhaps the best blessing of having her join the family.

And, of course, she takes good care of my son Seth and has supported him in his job ups and downs.  That too is a cause for gratitude.

Holly with newborn son Samuel in 2015

Holly with newborn son Samuel in 2015

I am truly grateful that Holly has become a part of my life and the lives of my family members.  She is truly part of the family…a real blessing.

Holly

Holly Kravetz brings peace

Holly, Seth and Rockwell are True Blue Kentucky fans

Holly, Seth and Rockwell are True Blue Kentucky fans

Holly

Holly

Happy Birthday Holly!  Thanks for being a part of our lives!

Countdown 365: #320 – Chelsea Kravetz Mendez: The Free Spirit

(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.)

ChelseaJapan

Chelsea in Oita, Japan in a “Hapi” and headband. This was taken in the fall of 1989.

Today is my daughter Chelsea’s birthday.  She is our sweet “middle child” and has been a “free spirited” soul for as long as I can remember.

Chelsea has always been a cutie and is a loving, caring and thoughtful person.  She has struggled through many challenges in her life and has made it through them.

 

I consider her a great blessing in my life!

Chelsea on her 3rd birthday

Chelsea on her 3rd birthday

Chelsea was born on a cold November morning in Flagstaff, Arizona.  She came to the world with anticipation.  In those days we didn’t know if the baby would be a boy or a girl, so we had the pleasant surprise of our third daughter in three years.  We “woke up and it was a Chelsea Morning” and thus Chelsea Dawn Kravetz came into this world on November 18, 1983.

Since that time she has generally been a joyful and happy-go-lucky girl.  As she has grown older she has also turned into a prankster, playing jokes on everyone in the family.

Young sassy Chelsea Dawn

Young sassy Chelsea Dawn

Chelsea and her sisters in 1987

Chelsea and her sisters Marissa (L) and Amaree (R) in 1987

a bright smiling Chelsea

a bright smiling Chelsea

Chelsea in a kimono in Japan.

Chelsea in a kimono in Japan.

In 1987 we moved to Japan.  Chelsea was at the age in her life where she was learning to really talk and was thrust into a world of two languages, speaking English at home, watching Japanese TV and then going to Japanese public schools, where the only language she had was written and spoken Japanese.  She was in a totally bi-lingual world.

In many respects it was a wonderful time for her.  As a cute American girl she was loved by all.  And being able to speak Japanese as a Japanese person would only made more love her.

Soon she was sought after for newspaper ads and TV commercials.  Her bright smile, long flowing “American hair” and joyful countenance was a major drawing card. At one time, a major department store had her picture hanging all over the store, in their print ads and on their TV ads.

Chelsea in the Tokiwa Department Store Advertisement

Chelsea in the Tokiwa Department Store Advertisement

ChelsPrincessOne of the most endearing commercials she was in was an advertisement for the Kuju Amusement Park grand opening.  She was dressed up like a little princess. To the left is a photo of them applying the makeup and then a video of the commercial followed by outakes.  Sure to make anyone smile!

Overall, Chelsea was in 5 television commercials and a number of print ads.  All of the kids (except for Solomon) appeared in both print and TV ads in Japan.

Picking oranges in a grove in Saga-no-Seki Japan in 1988

Picking oranges in a grove in Saga-no-Seki Japan in 1988

Upon our return to the United States in late 1991, Chelsea basically went through culture shock.  Her only real life had been as a “gaijin” – foreigner – living a Japanese life.

We came back to Arizona and got the kids into school.  Chelsea had to take English as a Second Language as an American.  We laughed as she said things in a confused fashion:

“Throw a cow” – (a mix of throw a tantrum and have a cow)

“Piece of cinch” – (a mix if Piece of Cake and a Cinch)

And there are others…if I could only remember….

 

chelsea 2Over the years she has grown into a beautiful woman.  She brought us our first grandchild.  She is a hard worker and has worked her into a management position at Wendy’s, where she has been for nearly 16 years.

During high school Chelsea became proficient on the violin and has always been a lover of music.  She has been way ahead of the trends.  When she was in high school she was already listening to European Gypsy Punk band Gogol Bordello, whom hardly anyone knew back then. They have since become world renown. And today, she is a lover of Bachata music with her favorites being Romeo Santos and Prince Royce.

Chelsea at a Romeo Santos concert in Chicago

Chelsea at a Romeo Santos concert in Chicago

She has also become a great cake artist.  Many come to Chelsea to create an original cake.  Here are a couple of her cake pieces….

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake 2

Birthday Cake 2

Chelsea remains fun-loving and cheerful.  Many of her days are stressful with long work hours, parenting and such.  But she gets through it.  Here are a few more fun photos of Chelsea….my sweet daughter.

Chelsea with daughter Autumn and husband Jorge

Chelsea with daughter Autumn and husband Jorge

SmoothChelsSmoochyChels

Chelsea with daughter Autumn and husband Jorge

Chelsea with daughter Autumn and husband Jorge

Chelsea

Chelsea

Chelsea at her wedding to Jorge

Chelsea at her wedding

Chelsea with her Grandpa Kravetz and Autumn in 2012

Chelsea with her Grandpa Kravetz and Autumn in 2012

Thoughtful Chelsea

Thoughtful Chelsea

Chelsea with her mother and her sister Marissa at the lake

Chelsea with her mother and her sister Marissa at the lake

Goofballs

Goofballs

Chelsea is truly an angel.  I am so grateful for her and the joy she brings to my life and that of my wife….

Chelsea

Chelsea