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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Jensen as he looked in high school in 1974

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

 

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

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort in Utah in 2016

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

 
 

Visiting Russ at his home in Murray, Utah in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Penny Strong as I knew her in 1976.

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

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

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

Busily engaged as a missionary in 1976

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

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

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

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

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

Lee Richan as I knew him around 2010

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

Our first photo together ca. 1978

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

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

Visiting with Charles Snow in North Carolina in 2016

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

Family in Japan in 1987

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

With Ron (aka Antsy McClain)  ca. 1998

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

Working with Antsy McClain

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossing Paths – A Julianne Story

Julianne as a toddler

I was a three-year-old boy in Albuquerque New Mexico when she was born in Mesa, Arizona. By the time she was five, I was on my way to Dallas, Texas with my family. By the time she was ten, I was learning the ropes as a junior high student in the Denver area. As she grew to the age of 15 and had begun her high school years, I had already traveled to Bozeman, Great Falls and was a senior in high school in Murray, Utah. By this time, she had become a very talented violinist. I had learned the saxophone.

She grew up in the same home most of her life with her loving family and her many friends throughout her elementary, junior high and high school days. I had moved often and always had to find new friends new places.

Julianne as a young girl (look at those curls)

The Bateman family early on.  Julianne on the left.

Julianne at Church Camp with friends (I think she is the one in front)

She was born in raised into her church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not me. Through all of these years I went from being born Catholic, being raised a Jewish boy for the first few years, then attending Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, and ultimately finding my way into the same church as her

As she was studying hard in high school, I had made my way to Japan to serve as a missionary for the Church.

Bateman Siblings

By the time I returned home, she had graduated high school and made her way to Brigham Young University. I had returned from Japan and also made my way to Brigham Young University. We both had hopes and dreams.

It was not until the fall of 1978, about 40 years ago, that our paths finally crossed. It’s really funny how things happen like this.

My old 1963 yucky green Volkswagen bug had died on me as I prepare to head to work as shoe salesman at JC Penney in Orem, Utah. I made my way to a bus stop so that I could get to work. I needed my job. That day, she also made her way to the bus stop to go to work. She too worked at JCPenney, in the little café, as a waitress. Even then, while working at the same place, our paths never crossed until this auspicious day in the fall of 1978. Having never ridden the bus to work, I did not know what the bus schedule was, but found that as I arrived at the bus stop, I missed the bus. She arrived just a couple minutes later only to find out for me, that she too had missed the bus. But, as fate would have it, I was enamored by this pretty young lady with long flowing brown hair and a gleaming smile who I just miss this bus with me. 

Our first photo together ca. 1978

She was friendly, and called one of her roommates to come pick us up to take us to work. I was grateful for that. But, I was also in love. Instantaneously in love. I knew at the moment we met at the bus stop, she was the one.  But I was shy, yes, an outgoing person, but shy in terms of the opposite sex. She too was somewhat shy, but friendly.  Interestingly enough, we did not introduce ourselves as this was just a chance meeting where our paths have crossed and she was being helpful to get me to the same location she had to go to anyway.

My interest was piqued as I knew she worked in the same place. Soon I was visiting the little café on a daily basis to order cherry cheesecake. My real reason was to observe this fine young lady whose name I still did not know.

Julianne ca. 1978

Then, one day I went in and she was gone. She had left to return home to Arizona. My glimmer of hope had disappeared. And I still did not know her name!

I spent the holiday in Utah wondering about her and if she would return and if I would ever see her again. I made my way down to Jemez Springs, New Mexico to celebrate Christmas with the remnants of my family. Divorce had happened. Challenges happened for my siblings. But, for once, we did get all together to celebrate the one day.

But this story is about Julianne…not me.

I returned to Provo late in December and continued my job. She was not there. She never did return to JCPenney.

School began again and it was back to search mode for me as I strived to find my soulmate. And then it happened! In the midst of the very crowded student center at BYU, I heard a “Hey you!“ called out. I looked. It was her! She had returned and our paths crossed again!! At that point, she did not know my name and I did not know hers. But I made sure this time that would not happen again. I gave her my name, I got her name and her phone number and the rest is history.

Marriage Photo….one of the happiest days of my life

Over the years, this birthday girl who is born when I was three just a few hundred miles away from me, became my wife and the mother of our five children. It was not easy. I took many hours of school and worked. She was left home alone almost all the time to raise these young children. I helped when I could, but she took the biggest load on her shoulders and that continued for many years.

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

Julianne Bateman was now my wife and was an exceptional mother to our children. Unlike many married couples, we had our times of separation for long periods of time. These were job related and not relationship related. 

Family in Japan in late 1980s

I can safely say that my schooling and work was a form of separation, but at least I tried to be home most evenings to spend time with her. She was the love of my life. And I adored our children.

Family Fun

Now together, we eventually made our way to Flagstaff where our first three children were born and I struggled through school and jobs. After graduation, we moved down to “the valley” to attend school in Tempe at Arizona State University where I would seek my masters degree. Once again, I was almost always gone while she stayed home and took care of the children.

Family in Japan in 1987.  We lived in this building.

Our first real extended separation happened in 1987 when I had an opportunity to go to Japan to work. I left in July and left her alone for nearly a month with our children. At this time we had four children and she was pregnant with her fifth and, bless her heart, she had to fly to Japan alone with those children. She flew via soul Korea and their flight was late and she missed the flight to Nagoya and Fukuoka. She was stuck in a foreign country, pregnant with four little children. Ultimately, the next day she did make her way into Japan and I was able to meet her and we had a joyous reunion.

The family in Japan

But, Julianne did not speak the language and I was always gone to work. Once again, she was left alone most of the time to deal with the challenges of life in a foreign country where she did not understand language, the customs or even the ways to purchase food. But she was strong, and she learned and she excelled.

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

She had to have her fifth child in a foreign country. She had to deal with a child who got severely burned and had to go spend a few days in a Japanese hospital. She had to manage all of these things on her own predominately due to my work.

We finally made it back to the United States in 1991. It was a challenging time for us as finding potential employment was difficult. After nine months of searching, I finally found a temporary job in Kentucky and once again, I had to leave her alone with five children. But this time, it was for eight months. This was before the days of cell phones, or FaceTime. Our only form of communication was a regular telephone, once a day. But she courageously struggled through that time while I worked far away to provide for our family. During that eight months, I only returned home once, during the holidays, for three or four days and then had to return to Kentucky.

The family visiting Mesa, AZ

Finally, in 1992 we were all able to be together again in Kentucky. But it was not the last time that separation would happen. Jobs came and went, and I eventually worked for eight months living Woodstock, Ontario. Once again, I left her alone to take care of things. By this time three of our children were already married and we had grandchildren. Only one of our children remained at home. She too had a job.

The years after our children left, the empty nest years, I have finally been able to see this sweet lady who has stuck with me for all these years blossom and become her self. For all these many years, she has sacrificed to take care of children, often times alone for long periods of time.

Our family in Lexington, KY around 1995 or 1996

Julianne, who celebrates her birthday this day, is strong and determined. For those many years raising children and being alone or having to get through all of the things that have to be done as a mother, she never got to be herself like she wanted.

Always happy

The whole family in prime form – July 2017 — includes all ten grandchildren and 4 spouses

I am proud of her and am thrilled to see her finally have the opportunity, like a century plant, to finally get her day blossoming. Becoming the beautiful and strong person that she now is and having to have withheld that for all of these years, Has probably been very difficult for her.

Julianne with our five children on my 60th birthday

Julianne and sisters November 2018 – (L-R – Maren, Kathy, Laura, Julianne)

Through all of this, from the day where our paths crossed 40 years ago, there are times where I worry that our paths are separating again. Not because of hate, or desire to separate, but because she has finally had the opportunity to be independent and blossom on her own and find her self. We are a new stage where we must find that sweet spot in our paths that helps us have that crossing again.

Julianne at her birthday celebration in Nov. 2018. (Look at those curls again!)

This person is the love of my life. I am so grateful for her. So honored that she would have me stick with me and sacrifice all these years for the benefit of our children. She is a fun-loving joyous soul who has blessed my life beyond description. I can only pray and hope for more joyous years together with my sweet Julianne who celebrates her birthday this day.  I am so glad our paths crossed all those years ago.

Julianne and David – Nov 4, 2018

A Look Back at 2017

Been a year worth many Smiles! Smile Gas in Madison Heights, VA

I have to admit that my life is rich and joyful. This past year has been one very interesting and challenging year. There have been more ups and downs then a roller coaster ride in Kings Island.  But I made it through the year with a smile on my face!!

The year started off on a high note as we were in Maryland finishing up a Christmas vacation and I saw a beautiful sunrise. We had some nice travel and then I started a new contract job for PrecisionHawk, a company that manufactures drone software. I was very excited, though it was a contractor position, I was able to work from home which made it very nice. My contract was supposed to be for one year but later on in the year the company transitioned management and many decisions were made, including one to eliminate all positions outside of North Carolina, which included me. That was totally unexpected, but, those kinds of things happen in this economy nowadays so one has to just roll with the punches.

Sunrise as seen from Ocean City, MD on New Year’s Day 2017…that’s the Atlantic Ocean.

Visiting PrecisionHawk HQ in NC in early January 2017

In February my daughter Marissa and I made a trip to Houston to drop off a trailer to my son Seth and his wife Holly.  We took Missy’s kids and had some fun stops along the way there (in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) and back (in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri).  Road trips are always a blast, but are even more fun with Grandikidz!

Visiting Alabama with Landen, Lyla and Joselyn

The giant Saturn Rocket on display at the Welcome Center near Huntsville, AL

Lunch at Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, MS (see Roadside America Post abt Mammy’s Cupboard)

Stopover in Louisiana

Holding a baby gator at the Gator Chateau in Jennings, LA

They do get much bigger!!

Being Chunky in Chunky, MS

Having Fun with the Grandkidz at the Magnolia Market Silos in Waco, TX

Time in Houston was fun as well.  Found a great quirky burger joint that we all went to.  Pretty unique…

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX – a load of fun!!

After visiting the family we returned home, first with a stopover in Uncertain, Texas to see the swamps.  Though uncertain about things, we met Aaron Applebaum (Mystique Tours) who took us on a boat tour through the swamp.  Didn’t see gators, but this February morning was a nice ride.  The kids even go to drive the boats.

Uncertain, Texas

Joselyn and Grampz on the boat somewhere in the swamp of Caddo Lake, near Uncertain

Aaron Applebaum let’s Landen drive the boat in the swamp

from the swamps of Texas/Louisiana, we headed north through central Arkansas and Missouri — a route that brought both planned and unplanned adventures.  In the middle of Arkansas, we came across a massive flock of migrating Snow Geese as we crested a hill.  What an amazing sight!!  We went through Missouri and then had a super time in Metropolis, IL.

Thousands of snow geese take to flight in central Arkansas

Hitting Missouri with the grandkidz

Having a super time with Superman in Metropolis

Later in the month my wife and daughter had a trip to Indianapolis to attend Time Out For Women. Wanting a road trip, I went along for the weekend ride.  We went out of our way to visit Story, IN and the Story Inn for lunch.  While they were at their conference, I visited some places in Indy.  Always seeking adventure!

Story, Indiana

The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!

Nashville, Indiana

Welcome to Indianapolis!

Hanging with Anthony Snape after his fabulous show at the Lexington Opera House.

We didn’t travel in March at all, but I was thrilled to attend an amazing concert in Lexington, where I got to meet up with my old Australian musician pal Anthony Snape, who performed with the amazing Tommy Emmanuel.  I took Marissa and she had a blast!

Later in the year I also got to attend a couple of other concerts, which I’ll note below.

 

Visiting Shenandoah National Park on Easter 2017

Julianne’s sister had a time share reservation in Virginia and so they set up a three night stay over Easter Weekend. As always, I wanted to drive.  I would take Julianne up there and then drive back on Easter morning.  I had a spectacular Easter morning visiting Shenandoah National Park and celebrating my own Easter Sunrise Service.  Had a spectacular moon (and even got a photo of Venus!!!) and took a really nice shot of a deer.

Easter Moon (taken with a Nikon D5200 and Tamron 200mm-600mm lens)

Caught this deer at sunrise off the side of the road. It stayed long enough for a quick shot.

Easter sunrise from atop the Shenandoah Mountains

By July I was out of “full time“ work and was striving to make it on the two or three small contracts that I had for a number of years with Vype magazine. That made things very difficult.

A composite of me with all of my grandchildren in 2012 and then again, same pose in 2017 (minus the youngest)

Hanging with the Grandkidz at the Wigwam Village in Cave City, KY. Yes, we stayed there!

That said, it was probably fortuitous that my position was eliminated because in July one of the highlights of the year came along and that was being able to be with my entire family for the first time in five years. All of my children and all my grandchildren were gathered together here in Kentucky and we had in some cases up to two weeks of reunion with family members.

With the family reunion came some additional fun as we traveled with parts of the family to a number of diverse areas including Mammoth Cave National Park, New York to see the Hill Cumorah Pageant and along the way a couple of beautiful state parks with amazing waterfalls, then on to Cleveland where we had another huge family gathering with my Laurienzo family and most of my family that was with us on the trip.

With Grandkidz at Mammoth Cave NP

Mammoth Cave

At the amazing waterfall in Letchworth State Park in New York

One of dozens of waterfalls in the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

With my wife’s sister Laura and her husband Richard in the depths of the gorge at Watkin’s Glen

Got to see my good friend Corey White, who was performing in the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Visiting King’s Island as a family – what fun!

Making a splash with my granddaughter Autumn

All of us enjoyed the view from atop Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, PA

Cleveland!

With my sisters Nicole and Tina and brother Joe in Cleveland

My sister Sherry came up from Texas with her husband Brian and daughter Savannah to join us for a couple of days.  Had a thrill going with them to see the band Chicago perform in Cincinnati.  I hadn’t seen them since 1975!!

Traveling to Cincinnati with Sherry and Brian to go see Chicago

Chicago Live in 2017!

One of the many roller coasters at King’s Island

The two weeks in July was an amazing time and one which most of us will not forget too soon.  We even got some family pics, including this goofy one at Waveland State Historic Park near Lexington.  I was contracted by the park to do their official photography for websites and other materials.  It has been fun to do this throughout the year.

The whole family in prime form – July 2017!

The year also brought sadness for me as one of my very good friends, Joseph Higginbotham, got ill and eventually passed away. Joseph was a good man and he had no family, very few friends and really nobody there for him, so I made numerous trips to West Virginia while he was in intensive care, a nursing home and ultimately in hospice. I was with Joseph at his bedside when he passed away.

Remembering my good friend Joseph Higginbotham, who passed away in June 2017

I also had a dear sweet cousin pass away. Donna Shoemaker, a cousin of mine through my Laurienzo family, passed away this year. She was one of the sweetest and kindest souls I’d ever met. Knowing her added luster to my life!

With my cousin Donna in 2016.

Visiting with Charles Snow

During 2017 I was also able to visit in North Carolina with one of my very close friends from college days who had also worked with me at Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, AZ. Charles Snow has been a friend of mine for well over 36 years, and I was thrilled to visit with him in North Carolina. He too has had some major illnesses and it breaks my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out for him daily as he suffers and struggles from a rare disease and from congestive heart failure. This kind of thing brings sadness to my heart. Besides him, I have a few other friends who are struggling.

Happy Happy Happy

But, where there are downs, there are also upsides. And the year brought many wonderful and exciting things for me, some of which were lifetime thrills!

When you speak of the highlights of your life, it often centers around children being born, getting married or some big events like that. I have had many of those in my life, but this year I had three big “Once in a lifetime” type of rare events happen.

The first of these occurred in January when I had heard about the possibility of seeing the migration of sandhill cranes as they come through Kentucky. In mid-January ventured south to Barren River Lake to check it out during their sandhill crane event. I was excited as I saw 200 or 300 Sandhill Cranes far out in a field. I couldn’t ever get very close.

Got to be amazed by Sandhill Cranes in January…1000s of them.

But, I had also heard that there might be some near Cecilia, Kentucky, which is near Elizabethtown. So that morning I drove up I-65 to Cecilia and drove around a little bit. Soon I came across a flock of these tall, beautiful sandhill cranes. To my astonishment, I soon saw that there were thousands of them! They surrounded me in every direction. The eerie sound they make echoed in my ears while I saw the beautiful grace of these birds taking off and landing in massive numbers while many others stayed on the ground feeding on the leftover corn in the farmland that they were in.

Love the Sandhill Cranes!

I hung around for nearly 5 hours watching this beautiful event, all the way until sunset. It will always remain a highlight of my life, though I plan to visit and revisit again in future years, including this upcoming January (2018).  Ironically, in December of this year we went to Barren River Lake State Resort Park and stayed three nights.  I once again saw hundreds of this birds!

Sandhill Cranes in December 2017 near Barren River Lake State Resort Park

Viewing the Solar Eclipse near Hopkinsville, KY

Another event happened, also in Kentucky. The middle of the year there was the famed great solar eclipse of 2017. It was a full eclipse which is very rare. In my 61 years of life, I had never seen one. So I took the day off and I booked it down to Hopkinsville, Kentucky where it was supposedly the epicenter and perhaps the best place in the world for viewing the eclipse. Thousands and thousands of people gathered from all around the world to witness this natural event. I was one of them.

Many cars had things on them like this one to go see the Total Eclipse

Thousands were in chairs to see the eclipse

This kid was focused!

For a couple of hours I drove around witnessing the “circus“ atmosphere in Hopkinsville. People were dressed in eclipse T-shirts and many had their Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon“ T-shirts on. Of course, everyone had their solar sunglasses!

As the event got near, I sought to find a place away from many people. I eventually found a small church that had parking for $10 and I paid them and I went and parked and sat and watched the event with amazement. I tried desperately to find a good filter for my camera in the previous weeks, but was not able to, so I had to wait until the actual event occurred to get some photos, which are shown below. Talk about a wonderful highlight!

Total Eclipse as seen through my Nikon

I got the Diamond!!

The last shot with my camera before the sun came out. Didn’t have a filter.

The third big exciting event of my life happened just a few weeks ago as I published my first book. I plan on publishing another 11 in the series, but my first book, titled “Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names,” is a book that took thousands of miles of travel and a lot of visits to out of the way places. I had written many blog posts and taken hundreds of photographs to finally create enough content for this book and those that will follow.

Published my First Book in December. Available on Amazon…sold over 100 copies and over 150 Kindle downloads in first month

Another highlight and good note for me for the year was being hired as a full-time employee by the website ComicBook.com in October. This was my first hired position in over five years and I have to say that I was filled with joy and gratitude for the opportunity. I am currently managing their database, which is massive and includes movies, television shows, anime and many other things. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s a blast to work with superheroes all day!

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

This year I spent many hours visiting the nearby Jacobson Lake in Lexington, taking photographs of sunrises, sunsets, nature scenes and lots of birds. It has become my “happy place” where I can seek solace and enjoy the wonderful variety of God’s creations.

I got my first good photographs of eagles in 2017. There are two bald eagles that are hanging around the lake and I was able to photograph them and experience that wonder.

Heron with breakfast

One of my many bald eagle shots

Not only did I get to see eagles, some of them close up as the photo below shows, but I also was able to witness a massive flock of Snow Geese in Arkansas as I traveled with my grandchildren, I was able to watch Osprey dive in the water and grab fish, I watched with amazement as a Baltimore oriole wove its nest in a sycamore tree over a number of days. This year became my bird watching year and it was wonderful.

 

Took this Bald Eagle shot near Cave Run Lake

My happy duckling

I am amazed at nature and the variety that it offers. It’s been wondrous to watch cormorants swimming in groups in the lake as they “herd“ fish into a corner and then feed voraciously! It has been interesting to see the unusual and curious looking merganser ducks swim in flocks together. It is always peaceful to watch the graceful flight of a great blue heron or a great white egret. Both of which I’ve been able to experience this year. (I’ll be doing a subsequent post on my best bird shots of 2017 — so watch for it.)

A Red-winged blackbird

This goldfinch apparently had a bad day

Great White Egret in Flight

An amazing bird – the Osprey

Then there are others….

Flying squirrel

Blue Heron with Breakfast

Despite the negative political climate that has evolved in America, the terrible hurricanes and earthquakes and fires that are devastated much of America, I have been very blessed to be in a lovely place and not be directly impacted by any of these things. I have been able to enjoy life to its fullest this year. I’ve been able to see God’s creations. Through my photography I have made many new friends. I am fortunate to get to see many of them at the lake. I’ve been able to have joy with my 10 grandchildren, my five children and my lovely wife throughout the year.

Some of my photographer friends….thanks to them for making 2017 a good year

Hanging with Eddie Flinchum at the lake

Jerome Keeler

Charles Gough

Hallie Faurest

The gang at an eagle shoot meetup at Taylorsville Lake

Finally, we finished off the year on a high note.  Earlier in the year I had been contracted to do the photography for Waveland State Historic Park in Lexington. Through them we coordinated an agreement with the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. We spent three days in a unit down there (read Staycation) between Christmas and New Years.  Saw some splendid sunrises and sunsets and got to revisit the Sandhill Cranes. There were thousands of them all over the sky.

Winter evening sky at Barren River Lake

Sandhill Cranes fly across the sky

Daughter Chelsea takes after her Dad, catching the sunset

Found Paradise Point nearby — what a kick (there will be a separate blog post about this)

Brilliant Sky over Barren River Lake

When I look back on the year 2017, it will be with joy and happiness and many many many fond memories.

Choose Happy

So, as 2017 comes to an end, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy and I look forward to a splendid 2018!

End of 2017 — sunrise near Barren River Lake

Turning 60 – A look back at the celebration

milestoneBack in October I celebrated my 60th birthday (Oct 4, 2016). The celebration actually started before then as all of my children had appeared and a giant party was set up on the Sunday before my birthday (Oct. 2, 2016). It seems like since that Thursday before my birthday party there had been some sort of celebrating and this had been the birthday that continued to give.
bdcake2Last year as I hit my 59th birthday, I decided to try (and did not succeed very well) to express daily gratitude for my blessings. I tried to pick out a theme every day and I did not do very well in this effort as life got very busy. One can never really plan for the future as the day-to-day events of our lives seem to dictate things and sometimes those things are unpredictable.

Despite my failure to succeed in my daily gratitude postings, I was definitely grateful for every day of life that I’d had and continue to be so to this day. But the last three weeks of my life I have been full of joy, sorrow and challenges. As I was originally writing this in late October (school teaching and other things made life way too busy to write), my father Joe Kravetz, who I grew up with, but is not my natural father, was on his deathbed at a hospice in Texas. My

Joe Kravetz as he was in the 1950s. Also in this photo is his gravemarker. He was buried in the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery.

sister Sherry stridently took care of him. He was not able to eat or drink and all was being done to keep him comfortable.  As I originally wrote this on October 25, he was still clinging to life after 12 days in hospice care without food or water. Somehow he kept hanging on.  However, on the next day, October 26, 2016, Joe Kravetz finally succumbed and passed away. (I will have a different post just about him at a later time).

Another one of my friends had a very serious motorcycle accident and it could’ve killed him. He has had to go through a number of surgeries and facial reconstruction. But he seems to be recovering by all indications (thank you Facebook). I saw a video of him today and he is able to walk again, but with assistance.  The accident appears to have been devastating. Fortunately, as I write this in December, he is back home and is already beginning to walk again.
These things break my heart and had been the downside of what had otherwise been an amazing three weeks.
So, the birthday shindig really started on September 29. Julianne decided to take a half-day off to help prepare for my Sunday birthday party with Marissa and Chelsea, my two daughters that live here in Lexington. Chelsea was supposed to pick Julianne up at the University and the car showed up to pick her up. As she walked out to the car, Marissa was there as well, with a video camera running live as the driver of Chelsea’s car was not Chelsea, but was our daughter Amaree who had surprisingly flown in from Washington State to surprise us!! Marissa caught it all on video and it was precious.

Flamingle!!

They then proceeded to come over to meet me because I was supposed to go to lunch with them, but I was tied up on some projects for my Japanese class that I was teaching at the University of Kentucky. So I went down to give Julianne the debit card so she could go to lunch with Chelsea and Marissa. I was expecting them to come in Marissa’s van and so as Marissa pulled up she got out of the van and had her iPhone in hand as if she was trying to video me and I didn’t think much of it because she does that a lot.

Got to hang with grandson Benson from Washington.

Turned out that Chelsea’s car was in front of the van.  I saw Julianne sitting in the passenger seat, so I walked over to give her the card and waved at who I thought was Chelsea and then started to walk away. Then I heard “hi daddy.” This was not Chelsea’s voice and it was a voice that I knew well. I peaked back in and did a double take!! There in the driver’s seat was my oldest daughter Amaree! My grandson Benson was also in the car. I was happily stunned!

At that point, I felt bad that I was not going to be able to join them for lunch but I really had work that had to be done. So off they went.  Needless to say, I was excited that my daughter Amaree would take the time to come out to Kentucky to celebrate my 60th birthday. She had flown in the night before and stayed at Chelsea’s house.
So that night, she came over and stayed with us. It was so wonderful to be able to spend time with her and to sit with my grandson Benson and read some books to him. Marissa also came over and they started making preparations for my birthday party which had been named ironically “Flamingle.”

The Chipotle Gang when we picked up our catered meals

This was not going to be a surprise party as we kind of expected to have some sort of celebration. For the previous three months Julianne and I had been going to Chipotle Mexican Grill for meals about 11 times a month so that we could land ourselves free catering for 20 in their summer 2016 Chiptopia promotion. Both of us succeeded at this and so we knew that we would be catered for 40 people with food from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

I also knew that the date of the party was going to be October 2 but I had no idea what else was going to go on.

Setting up flamingos

They had been secretly planning a number of things and with the theme being around flamingos there were flamingo things going on. Marissa had printed out dozens and dozens of photographs of me that she had painstakingly gleaned from Facebook. I don’t know why she couldn’t have just come and taken them off of my hard drive, but that’s OK. All of these pictures were pasted all over a couple of walls in the house and they covered all the way back from my early years of life to my 60th year. It was a fun gesture and also fun to look back on my life in these snapshots.

Flamingos everywhere

Julianne had picked up some plywood and had made some 5 foot tall flamingos which were painted pink and then had the word “Flamingle” painted on them along with an arrow pointing in the direction of the house. These would be directional signs to the house.

On that Friday evening as I read books to the kids, they were busily engaged in working in all of these projects. I was getting excited for the fun that would ensue and had heartfelt gratitude for the love and effort they had in this celebration of my life.

Reading books to the Grandkidz

Hanging with daughter Amaree who came from Washington to surprise me

As there were things that still needed to be done on Saturday morning, and as everyone was all busily engaged, I decided I would go out and run the errands for them to pick up things such as marshmallows and other stuff that they had planned for the party. Our granddaughter Autumn was to be picked up as well, so I headed over to get her. While I was out, Amaree called and kept asking when my ETA was to return home and I said I’m still tied up on picking up things. She said that I should just pick up Autumn and come home and that she would go run the errands with me. So I did that and I got home and dropped Autumn off in the driveway. I told her to send Amaree out.

While waiting in the driveway for Amaree, she called me and said “come in the house Daddy. We have some breakfast and then we’ll go.” So I went in and they had made a nice breakfast of eggs in the nest using pastry rather than bread. It was a nice breakfast.

Seth snuck into our hot tub and surprised us.

While eating, Amaree said “Look! I just got a funny Facebook message from Seth!” She then proceeded to show Julianne and me a photo of our son Seth sitting in our hot tub. Naturally, we thought this was an old picture of Seth being used as a surprise, but on a closer look we realized that Seth was ACTUALLY sitting in our hot tub at that particular point in time and Julianne went running out to the deck and look down and kind of yelled a little scream of delight and her funny laugh. I too was pleasantly surprised. Seth apparently rented a vehicle and parked down the street and then walked quietly around in and snuck into the hot tub. He told us that he had been transported via hot tub to get to our house. Ha ha!!

One of two Photo Walls set up b the kids. What fun these were!

So, at this point, two of my children had come from out of town. Seth had come up from Houston. He spent some time with us in the morning and then said he had to go to Georgetown to spend some time with his in-laws, but that he would return to our house later on. Because he had hotel points, he was staying in a hotel rather than at our house.

We proceeded to get all of the other things ready for the party and it was another late evening on Saturday. Around 9 PM I was asking if Seth was coming back as I thought he was and I was just excited to talk to my son.
He had been out shopping and purchased a giant beef brisket to put on the grill for the birthday dinner on Monday evening.
So, Seth finally did show up around 9 o’clock PM and we sat and talked and just had a nice little time. I had really thought maybe Solomon would walk in with him, but I was disappointed that my other son from Colorado Springs did not happen to be there with us.

Hanging with the boys…Seth and Solomon, both of whom showed up to surprise me (and Julianne!)

But, lo and behold, about 15 minutes later, we hear our front door open and peek over and Solomon walks in the door. Everybody gasped and was excited. Of course, my daughters all knew but Julianne and I did not.

For the first time in four years all of my children were together with with us and this was such a joy.
So, Solomon and Seth returned to the hotel later that evening after we sat and talked and had a few snacks and then we prepared ourselves for the big event on Sunday.
Since this was LDS General Conference Sunday for our church, there was no church at the building and the girls all listened to General Conference while they prepped for the ensuing party.
We had a lot of errands to run and ultimately I had to go to Chipotle and pick up all of our catered food. They were expecting us obviously because we had been telling them what we were going to do. It was fun. We got all of the goods and I took a big group picture with all the Chipotle gang that were there. I then headed back home with all the food as they set up everything else in the house.

Next door neighbor Mike LeMaster taking a selfie at the party

The time finally came in the late afternoon when the party was to begin. People began to trickle in little by little including our neighbors Mike and Lauren and Steve and Chris. Steve had worked really hard to help in our yard cleaning up the yard and is an amazing neighbor.

The first person to actually arrive was my old boss from iHigh, Tim Campbell. That was an amazing surprise to me. It was nice to see him and have a nice chat with him. I do some work for him and his new business lately,  but I haven’t actually visited with him for a long time.

Julianne in her self designed flamingo shirt

There were many friends from church that showed up and Stacey Edwards, who I worked with at BrainBox the last couple of years also came by. She was always like a little sister to me and I really always enjoyed working with her.

Birthday Cake with sixty little plastic flamingos. CLASSIC!!

At the party, we had all that food.  And Amaree had made four cakes and Chelsea had also made a chocolate Flan cake. So we had five cakes and lots of other goodies at the party. Of course the main cake of interest was the German chocolate cake with the amazing homemade German chocolate coconut frosting that Amaree made.

They finally got around to having me come over and sit by the German Chocolate Cake.  It had been decorated with 60 little flamingo toothpicks and then a six and a zero candle that was lit up. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and I blew out the candles.
I was next presented with some gifts. This was where the real shock took place. Julianne had quizzed me and had known for quite a while that my Nikon camera had broken and also kept questioning me as to whether or not I wanted a bicycle. I thought maybe they would come up with one of those things for my birthday, but really had no idea….

Picking up the bike on October 14

What really happened was the shocker. Marissa had gone to the point of group funding and had raised enough to get me a camera. I was able to get a new Nikon D5200 with a gift card that they had provided me for money raised for many of my family and friends. The other big stone to me was that my friend Russ Graves, from high school in Murray, UT had gotten together with some of the others that I went to church with in Murray in the 1970s. They all collected money and had purchased me a brand-new bicycle! It had been ordered and arrived on October 14..

Brand new Birthday Camera – a Nikon D5200.

A few neighbors and others had brought a few other little gifts and the kids had given me a big old box that had a bicycle bell and a couple of other bike things in it. It was really an amazing and fun birthday for me and just the event and love itself and made this the best birthday for me in all of my 60 years.

All in the Family…family photo on my 60th Birthday (L-R: Marissa, Solomon, Chelsea, David, Julianne, Seth and Amaree)

My fun family!

But alas, after Sunday was over it was back to work at University of Kentucky for me on Monday. Julianne was able to take some time off so she could spend time with Amaree. But, we did take time in the morning and went to the Lexington Arboretum to take some family pictures of the five children and of the five children with us, etc. That was a joyous time to be able to be with her children and get some wonderful photos with them after four years of not being together.

My sweet wife smiles with me on my 60th birthdaycelebration

So, part two of all of the birthday celebration was my taking the gift card and searching to find a replacement for my Nikon D 40. I had been brokenhearted because I had not had a camera for almost a month other than my iPhone, which takes great pictures, but still having my Nikon with my telephoto lens was always a wonderful thing. And, I enjoy going to the lake and taking pictures.

Ready to get some photos with my new D5200

I ultimately found the D5200 on Amazon.com and ordered it and received notification that it would arrive probably on that Friday. But it actually arrived two days later and I was so excited to have a new camera to be able to take it out on Friday morning and go to the lake and take some pictures. Those that know me also know that I am very fond of bird photos, especially blue herons. Following are a couple of photos taken with my new Nikon in October.

Photo of me with my new camera courtesy of fellow photographer Earlane Cox

A rare shot of the elusive Bald Eagle of Jacobson Lake. Taken with a zoom in bright light, I had to manipulate it a bit. It was my first sighting of this beauty.

A blue heron landing. Once again, I used some software to highlight the beauty of this bird

In mid-October there were egrets visiting the lake. I got this shot of one of them. Very happy

Finally, an interesting shot of a blue heron chasing an egret

Taking Solomon to the Cincinnati Airport

During the time family was in town, we had family dinners on Monday and Tuesday evening until Amaree left on Wednesday and Seth left on Tuesday evening. Solomon hung around until Friday so I took him to the airport on Friday morning.

Despite the children all gone by this time, the gifts keep on giving. Later in October I went with Julianne and Marissa to SW Virginia where we were to meet Julianne’s sister Laura and her daughter Emma. They were going to ride the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail.

Heading up the trail. Notice I had my Nikon around my neck as well.

Just in case, we took my bike as well.  I had only ridden it about a mile or two previously, and we weren’t sure if I would be able to.  But ultimately, while waiting for them down the hill from the start, I decided to give it a try and rode UPHILL for nearly 3 miles to meet them on the trail and then come back down the hill with them. It was fun to see the surprised look on Julianne’s face when she saw me sitting at a table waiting for them!

The biking gang somewhere on the Virginia Creeper Trail. My first REAL bike ride.

Not only did I use the bike, but also my new Nikon as I took photos along the way. It was a lovely time of year.

It has been more than two months since my birthday and I still have man fond memories. My life is filled with joy and there are the many precious moments I have had in this 60 years.  And it just keeps going.  Watch my blogs for more photos and more bike stories…and more grandkidz selfies and family stories.  Life is Awesome but its getting better.

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

Last Sunrise at Jacobson Park Playground

Feb18eOn February 18 I made one of my nearly twice a week (or more) treks to Jacobson Park to catch the sunrise, the blue herons and the peace of the lake.  This is a Joy Point spot for me where I can take a breath, relax and meditate in my own way.

On that day I personally witnessed and photographed the sad and heartbreaking destruction and teardown of a well-known landmark in Lexington — the beloved Jacobson Park Playground was being torn down.

A Bobcat digs into the wooden playground equipment on Feb. 18

A Bobcat digs into the wooden playground equipment on Feb. 18

Crews work on the teardown of beloved playground

Crews work on the teardown of beloved playground

Two of my grandchildren playing "Drive Thru Restaurant" in one of the many cubby holes.

Two of my grandchildren playing “Drive Thru Restaurant” in one of the many cubby holes in 2014

I knew it might be coming soon, but had hoped that the outcry from residents via the Save Jacobson Park Playground Facebook Page and other sites would have had some impact.  In fact, in support of keeping this park, back in September 2014 I was asked to publish an article regarding the playground and I wrote my feelings then and continue to have those feelings that this was something that should have remained as it promoted creativity and independence for the children that played on this playground. The article was published in the local Hamburg Journal. All to no avail.

My family enjoying the fun playground in the mid 1990s

My own family enjoying the fun playground in 1998

For at least the 20 years that my family has lived in the Lexington area, we have frequented this playground at Jacobson Park as have 1000s of other families.

I began taking my own children there a number of years ago and more recently I have frequented the park often with my grandchildren over the last five or six years. I make treks to Jacobson Park almost daily to photograph the wildlife and the beauty of the lake in the tranquility. The natural setting of the playground added to that.

THREE GENERATIONS OF ENJOYMENT

Family on Park Playground Equipment in mid 1990s

Family on Park Playground Equipment in 1998

My grandchildren enjoying the park in 2014

My grandchildren enjoying the park in 2014

Youngest granddaughter Lyla clings to one of the many wooden posts in 2014

Youngest granddaughter Lyla clings to one of the many wooden posts in 2014

Climbing high in 2014. Lots of entertainment and imagination

Climbing high in 2014. Lots of entertainment and imagination

Grandson Landen runs along one of the plank walks

Grandson Landen runs along one of the plank staircases

I have personally spent many hours sitting on one of the wooden benches in the with my back to the lake and my eyes to the playground watching the joyful and playful attitude of not only my grandchildren and children, but dozens and dozens of other kids. All of the children that played here became instant friends and they would play hide and seek, or pirate ships or other such games.  The design of the equipment evoked creativity.

The City of Lexington has laid out plans to create a new playground that is compatible with ADA (American Disability Act) standards (see detailed plans here), but many of us that have reviewed those plans were sorely disappointed in what will replace what was probably the most iconic and entertaining playground in the city of Lexington.  Hundreds, if not 1000s of Lexington residents felt as though the city could have added upon the current structure rather than spend the money to tear down what was still a viable and enjoyable structure for many.  The entire project is costing nearly $500,000. For the half million dollars being spent on this project, the original structures could have been added to and improved many times over and an ADA viable playground addition could have been constructed…in my opinion.

A billboard at the park details the future playground, scheduled for June 2016

A billboard at the park details the future playground, scheduled for June 2016

Outcry as seen on Facebook. Over 680 shares from my Feb. 18 post

Outcry as seen on Facebook. Over 600 shares from my Feb. 18 post

Some comments from a different Facebook post show the sadness

Some comments from a different Facebook post show the sadness of the community

To add to the disappointment of this icon being torn down is the fact that the new playground won’t have the natural feel of wood that fits in so nicely with the natural characteristics of Jacobson Lake and Jacobson Park. There’s a part of me that just cannot imagine geese and blue herons hanging around plastic playground equipment.

A Blue Heron flies by the playground in 2015

A Blue Heron flies by the playground in early Feb. 2016

Token remnant of the current playground that will remain, but will not be accessible for play any longer.

Token remnant of the current playground that will remain, but will not be accessible for play any longer.

But, as a token of the historic nature of the park, the City has left a couple of pieces to serve as a “landmark.”  To many it will serve as a sad reminder of by-gone days of fun, creativity and play.

Following are a few more photos I have taken over the years of this wonderful playground and included at the end are the final days, if not the final day of this playground.

The Spires if the Playground

The Spires if the Playground

A view of Jacobson Lake as seen from a bench on the playground

A view of Jacobson Lake as seen from a bench on the playground

The playground as viewed in January 2016 after a snowfall

The playground as viewed in January 2016 after a snowfall

Geese look at the demolition (with sadness I am sure)

Geese look at the demolition (with sadness I am sure)

Remnants of the structure as seen on Feb. 20

Remnants of the structure as seen on Feb. 20

The last day of the structure on the morning of Feb. 18, 2016

The last day of the structure on the morning of Feb. 18, 2016

1000s of memories into the dumpster on February 18

1000s of memories into the dumpster on February 18

Countdown 365: #346 – Falling for Fall

DSC_7238Honestly, fall is my favorite time of year.  Maybe it is because I was born in October.  Maybe its because the temperatures are cooling down to the fifties. But, most likely it is because of the change of the season, the striking colors (at least in Kentucky) and the eye candy that the colors bring. Joy points. Nature’s soup for the soul.

Last Sunday, October 25, I took a drive in the countryside early in the morning. All of the photos on this post were taken then. So, you can get a glimpse of one day of fall.

I consider myself blessed to be living DSC_7289in Kentucky. I am thankful to live in a neighborhood that is just minutes away from the pastoral settings of the famous Overbrook and Juddmonte farms, two of Kentucky’s famed thoroughbred horse farms.

There are many scenic byways surrounding Lexington, and the Delong Road/Walnut Hill Road area is one of the best.  Just five minutes from my house I can be driving down Delong Road and witnessing the beauty of the rolling DSC_7277hills surrounded by the black plank fences of the horse farms.  Any time of year is great to get away and do this.  But fall is by far the most amazing time to do so.

The drives on these two lane roads make me slow down and visually, as well as emotionally, take it all in.  The Grand Canyon, the Tetons, Glacier National Park…all of these may be breathtaking, but the simplicity of the fall colors lining the black plank fences is just as breathtaking to me.

DSC_7287DSC_7285DSC_7267DSC_7264DSC_7259DSC_7280DSC_7279DSC_7260DSC_7297I also enjoy looking at the colorful leaves up close.  From a distance they all look the same, but, on closer inspection, each one is like a snowflake.  They each have their own hues of red, yellow, brown and orange.  They have blemishes. They are different sizes and shapes. Another great example to me of nature’s complex simplicity. I am certain that our kind Father in Heaven created this time of season for us to take time to reflect upon the richness of this earth that we live in.  Its a time to have wonder in His grand creations.

DSC_7262DSC_7246DSC_7248DSC_7305DSC_7231Then there are the little surprises.  As I drove around the back country and snapped photos, I missed a few things.  In editing and reviewing my photos before I wrote this, I notices something interesting on the tree.  On closer inspection I discovered that a little frog had photobombed my autumn leave shot.  Can you find the little critter in the photo below?  Chock up another joy point!

Notice the frog on the tree

Notice the frog on the tree

DSC_7233Even driving the neighborhoods of Lexington, I can find some great scenic beauty.

The city is blessed with a variety of trees and thus an astounding array of colors dots the neighborhoods.

Every October my excitement grows as I wait for the two big trees just a couple of blocks from our house to explode in their yellows and oranges. They are delightful.

DSC_7230FallTreesDSC_7301DSC_7303Indeed, I am grateful for fall colors.  They are a blessing to my life each year.

Countdown 365: #354 – A Free Dinner at Chuy’s

(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.)

ChuysNachoTIt is not everyday that you can be “counting your blessings” and an unexpected one happens right before your eyes.  Tonight was one of those nights, so I am counting this one in as an unplanned blessing.

Julianne and I usually try to get a date night in once a week. Due to our schedules, it is usually going somewhere for dinner.  Since we are striving to eat whole foods, lots veggies and such, we always seek the places that serve vegetarian or even vegan choices.  Fortunately, Chuy’s in Lexington is very accommodating this way.

Hatch Green Salsa from Chuy's

Hatch Green Salsa from Chuy’s

I am a lover of Chuy’s because they have awesome Hatch Green Chile Salsa.  I can devour that stuff like candy…and I do.  Some of the waiters and waitresses know this and bring me out my 4-5 bowls of the stuff!  Honestly, I could eat with a spoon and skip the fattening chips! (And then there is the fresh guacamole…another treat)

We also like Chuy’s because we can order typical items and ask for no cheese or meat and additional veggies.  Tonight was one of those nights.  Thursday is “Big Daddy Enchilada” night, which is a chicken enchilada stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and cheese.  We just skip the chicken and cheese.  Kind of a special veggie enchilada, which they also serve.  Julianne and I both love them.

Chuy's Veggie Enchiladas

Chuy’s Veggie Enchiladas

Chuy's is Fun and Tasty

Chuy’s is Fun and Tasty

Well, tonight we ordered the “Meat/Cheese” free Big Daddy Enchiladas. The wait was a bit longer than normal, but Julianne and I were busy talking about the events of the day and things from work, etc.  Then, without notice, one of the managers came over and apologized profusely for our meal coming so slow. He wanted to verify our order and then went back to “get it right.”  Shortly thereafter we got our meal.  Allen, the Asst. Manager, apologized again and then said “tonight’s dinner is on me.”  We said that was not necessary, but he insisted. (Remember, we never once complained or even intimated any unhappiness).  The other Assistant Manager was over soon checking to make sure we were happy with the meal, noted that dinner was on the restaurant due to the inconvenience and then gave us a card for another meal on the next visit.  We were stunned!!

Chuy's Veggie Burrito slathered in Hatch Green Salsa - yes it is yummy

Chuy’s Veggie Burrito slathered in Hatch Green Salsa – yes it is yummy

chuys-neon-signEven after all of this, we were fine with paying for our meal, but they insisted.  THAT, my friends, is EXCELLENT and CARING customer service.  We are already good customers, frequent visitors and count this restaurant as one of our favorite dining establishments. This time they went far and beyond any expectation and it needs to be noted.

And I count it as a blessing out of nowhere. My wife leaves on a trip out of town for a week and so this was our last opportunity for a date night.  It was an excellent one!!

Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy after a good blessing

This place made us both smile tonight and count our blessings.  We left a tip and left with a smile.  Tomorrow, I am calling Chuy’s 800 Customer Service number to let them know how great the service is there.  (It was not the first time they have made sure we were happy, but this particular unilaterally initiated effort was a first for me at ANY dining establishment EVER!)

Count your blessings folks…you will be surprised!

Countdown 365: #356 – The Simple Things – Part 1

Sometimes, we overlook the simple things in life.  Here are a few that I count as blessings…. (all photography by David Kravetz/Sumoflam Productions):

Tranquil Snowscapes

Tranquil Snowscapes

Birds in Graceful Flight

Birds in Graceful Flight

My wife running her fingers through my hair

My wife running her fingers through my hair

Mountain Majesties

Mountain Majesties

The Curiosity of Children

The Curiosity of Children

Morning sunrises

Morning sunrises

Spring FLowers

Spring Flowers

Homemade S'mores

Homemade S’mores

The curious art of nature

The curious art of nature

A robin egg

A robin egg

A baby yawn

A baby yawn

Curious wildlife

Curious wildlife

Nature's variety

Nature’s variety

Grandchildren at play

Grandchildren at play

A bee at work

A bee at work

Nature's Art in flowers

Nature’s Art in flowers

A grandchild dancing

A grandchild dancing (photo by Marissa Noe)

Young goslings in the morning sun

Young goslings in the morning sun

Morning fog on an autumn day

Morning fog on an autumn day

Sunbeams in the evening

Sunbeams in the evening

 

Countdown 365: #358 Rockwell Elias Kravetz

11811550_10206026495800285_8827539075719149780_nMy 7th Grandchild, Rockwell Elias Kravetz (RockE) for short, was born on this date in 2010.  Happy 5th Birthday RockE!!

I love and adore all 10 f my grandchildren.  Each has their own personality and style.  Rockwell is my uber-pleasant one.

Rockwell is special in that he is the first “Kravetz” of his generation in the Alexander Kravetz (my grandfather) line. His middle name is also that of Alexander’s father Elias (his great great great grandfather).  I was the first in my generation and Seth was the first in his as well.  I think it is cool that we are now 5 generations from Alexander Kravetz.

Rockwell in Sept. 2015 with his new brother Sam. (photo by Marissa Noe)

Rockwell in Sept. 2015 with his new brother Sam. (photo by Marissa Noe)

Back in 2012 all of the family was in Lexington and we were able to get a four generation photo with my stepfather Joe Kravetz, me, Seth and Rockwell.  Not many are able to get four generation photos like that, so it is really special.

A Four Generation Photo - Seth, Rockwell, me, Joe Kravetz - taken Dec 2012

A Four Generation Photo – Seth, Rockwell, me, Joe Kravetz – taken Dec 2012

Rockwell shortly after he was born in 2010

Rockwell shortly after he was born in 2010

Holding RockE on Oct. 12, 2010..he was one day old

Holding RockE on Oct. 12, 2010..he was one day old

Rockwell was the only grandchild that has actually lived in our home.  While Seth was going to UK, they lived in the upstairs section of the house, so we got to see Rockwell often, when he was young.

Honestly, that is a joy and blessing in and of itself.  It had been many years since a baby had resided in the house.  Babies bring such happiness and love into a home and Rockwell certainly did this.

 

Seth, Holly and Rockwell in Fall 2014

Seth, Holly and Rockwell in Fall 2014

Seth graduated and soon moved to Ohio for a job and then later to Connecticut.  Our opportunity to see Rockwell was lessened as a result.

Most children his age are pretty hyper, but Rockwell is even keeled, pleasant almost always and certainly friendly and good natured.

When he has visited he was never shy and was always willing to sit with Grampz for a quick book read, etc.

I really count myself blessed to have this joyful young man in my life and the life of my family.  Following are a few joyful moments and a couple of other photos of this smart, handsome and AWESOME grandchild of mine.

Three generations of Kravetz guys getting ready for the UK Wildcats to down the U of L Cardinals in 2014

Three generations of Kravetz guys getting ready for the UK Wildcats to down the U of L Cardinals in 2014

RockE and his mom and dad in Connecticut. Their future is so bright they gotta wear shades

RockE and his mom and dad in Connecticut. Their future is so bright they gotta wear shades

Hanging with Grampz in 2012

Hanging with Grampz in 2012

Rockwell in a ponderous moment

Rockwell in a ponderous moment

Hanging with Grampz at Old Orchard Beach in Maine, Sept. 2015

Hanging with Grampz at Old Orchard Beach in Maine, Sept. 2015

Future Engineer - No Doubt!

Future Engineer – No Doubt!

Hanging with Grampz and cousins in Connecticut, 2015

Hanging with Grampz and cousins in Connecticut, 2015

First day of school

First day of school

Taking god care of new little brother in Sept. 2015

Taking god care of new little brother Sam in Sept. 2015

Can you blame me for wanting to be a PROUD GRAMPZ??

Handsome boy

Handsome boy

My daughter Marissa captured some early moments of his life in this great video, which I thought I would share here.