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


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

Synchronicity on a Saturday Night: Take 2 – UK Basketball & Antsy McClain


Antsy McClain

Artwork by Antsy McClain (with some revision by Meadowlark Creative and Sumoflam added the colors and UK logo)

Artwork by Antsy McClain (with some revision by Meadowlark Creative and Sumoflam added the colors and UK logo) This is the “Go UK!” Sumoflam logo

Back in early April 2014 I wrote a post entitled “Synchronicity on a Saturday Night: UK Basketball & Antsy McClain“.  It was all about a Saturday night (April 4, 2014) when I attended an Antsy McClain concert in Harrison, OH and, on the same night, the Kentucky Wildcats were playing in the opening game of the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament against the University of Wisconsin.  I noted the synchronicity and a number of unique coincidences revolving around the whole evening of events. (And UK won on a last second three pointer by Aaron Harrison to advance to the finals – they lost to Wisconsin this year)

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

Almost one year later I was again in Cincinnati to see Antsy McClain (March 28, 2015) and, again, the UK Wildcats were battling it out against Notre Dame in the Elite 8.  And here I was, in my UK hat cheering on Antsy McClain at the intimate, yet wonderful DownTowne Listening Room in Downtown Cincinnati while the UK Wildcats were in yet again a barnstorming back and forth battle.

DownTowne Listening Room Cincinnati

DownTowne Listening Room Cincinnati

Antsy McClain SOLD OUT

Antsy McClain SOLD OUT

Antsy McClain at DownTowne Listening Room

Antsy McClain at DownTowne Listening Room

The DownTowne Listening Room is located on the second floor of the Art Deco Shillito Place Building in downtown Cincinnati.  With food (included with tickets) and couches and close seating, is a perfect place for a performer like Antsy McClain and other singer songwriters.

Shilito Building in downtown Cincinnati.  Home of the DownTowne Listening Room

Shilito Place Building in downtown Cincinnati. Home of the DownTowne Listening Room

Panorama shot of the DownTowne Listening Room

Panorama shot of the DownTowne Listening Room

Founder Scott Skeabeck is an avid music lover who moved to Cincinnati from Philadelphia about five years ago. As a frequent concert-goer and listening room patron on the East Coast, he was determined to bring the experience to Cincinnati.

DownTowne Listening Room founder Scott Skeabeck

DownTowne Listening Room founder Scott Skeabeck

View from the singer's mouth

View from the singer’s mouth

Scott Skeabeck knows how to book a good show and provide a great entertainment venue

Scott Skeabeck knows how to book a good show and provide a great entertainment venue

The show was opened by singer/songwriter Steve Saunders, who is from Cincinnati but originally from Paintsville, KY.  Much like Antsy, Steve is a storyteller with his music. He has been around for a while.  One of his close friends, Tommy Bolin, was with the James Gang in the 1970s and Steve was able to get to know one of my favorite musicians, Joe Walsh, as a result.  Steve’s rootsy music was good.  You should give him a listen on his ReverbNation site.

Opening for Antsy McClain was singer/songwriter Steve Saunders

Opening for Antsy McClain was singer/songwriter Steve Saunders

Cincinnati artist Steve Saunders at the DownTowne Listening Room

Cincinnati artist Steve Saunders at the DownTowne Listening Room

After Steve’s great performance of six or seven songs, it was Antsy McClain’s turn to give the crowd some unequivocal fun.  I have known and worked with Antsy for well over 20 years and it is rare to see him doing a solo show in such an intimate setting. He did a good number of his hits as well as some new things from his upcoming album “Somewhere Past These Gravel Roads,” which is scheduled to be out in June 2015.

Antsy's hand-written set list

Antsy’s hand-written set list

Antsy McClain singing one of his songs at DownTowne Listening room

Antsy McClain singing one of his songs at DownTowne Listening room

Here are a couple more shots of my friend Antsy McClain…all shot by me

Smiling Antsy McClain

Smiling Antsy McClain

Antsy sings a mean tune

Antsy sings a mean tune

Antsy McClain in B/W

Antsy McClain in B/W

The DownTowne Listening Room audience enjoying Antsy McClain

The DownTowne Listening Room audience enjoying Antsy McClain

As Antsy’s show finished just before the basketball game, I had the final couple of minutes on a screen in hand (thank you iPhone and NCAA-TV!!) Steve Saunders, also an avid Wildcat’s fan, joined me. Once again, with only a minute or so in the game, Aaron Harrison drops another 3 pointer and the Cats take the lead.  But, alas, Notre Dame comes back with their own.  UK then ties it and Notre Dame attempts to come back.

UK Basketball player, Sophomore Andrew Harrison

UK Basketball player, Sophomore Andrew Harrison

After what seemed like an eternity, UK stopped them and got the ball back.  Andrew Harrison, Aaron’s twin brother, drives the full court for a layup and gets fouled.  With just seconds he left he drops them both for a 2 point UK lead.  Notre Dame has a few seconds and one last chance and is again stopped, as UK gets their record-tieing 38th win of the season and was only two games away from an undefeated 40-0 season.  Unfortunately, on April 4 the Wildcats lost a heartbreaker to Wisconsin.

Antsy's Flamingo Capo

Antsy’s Flamingo Capo

As for me…on that Saturday night I was a double winner as Antsy’s show as awesome and I got to hang with one of my best friends, and the night was finished off with a UK Win.  Synchronicity rules.

After the show with Antsy McClain

After the show with Antsy McClain

Joshua Bell: A Classical Rock Star

joshuabell-1000x330What more can I say? After enjoying a wonderful concert with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, with accompanying guest classical superstar violinist Joshua Bell, I left inspired and starstruck!

Getting Pumped for the Concert

Getting Pumped for the Concert

I am not a music critic, but I am an avid music fan. Those that know me are aware that I am a 70s rock ‘n roller and an collector of cover songs. But, I grew up listening to classical music, I’ve married a classical violinist and I have classical music in my life and I enjoy it as well, and do include it in my collections.

Pre-concert photo with my sweetheart as we waited to be let in to the auditorium

Pre-concert photo with my sweetheart as we waited to be let in to the auditorium

Though not a critic, this is my review of the concert from April 3 based upon my experience with music.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

The UKSO opened with two luscious pieces. The first piece was a very delightful, indeed festive offering by Dmitri Shostakovich. Entitled “Festive Overture“, it is filled with catchy melodies and straightforward harmonies, perhaps a reflection of the Socialist regime’s push for simplicity in the 1950s. The piece started with with a grand brass fanfare, a perfect opening for a concert. Soon the tempo abruptly changed into high gear for the main theme, which included a bubbly clarinet tune. From there the pace of the music was breakneck and whimsical. I loved this opening piece and was only disappointed in its brevity.

Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)

Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)

I had not heard Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in many years. I recall an old album my Dad had in the 1960s, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. I was not too endeared to it back in the 1960s.  In terms of classical I was more prone to listen to my Dad’s Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms albums. As I grew older and listened to it again in the 1970s, I enjoyed it more as I was able to understand the story that the music elicited about an evil king, a prince and a Firebird that saved the day. The UKSO performance, conducted by John Nardolillo, was moving.

UKSO Conductor John Nardilillo (photo from Lexington Herald Leader)

UKSO Conductor John Nardilillo (photo from Lexington Herald Leader)

Outside the rain was pouring buckets and, from my third row seat in the Singletary Center, I could hear it flowing down the side of the building.  This background “music” of the flowing water added to the mysteriously flowing stanzas of the seven movements.  After so many years of not listening to it, I was enthralled by all of the musical movement coming from the various sections.  But, I also had a great angle to catch a profile of Dr. Nardolillo and could see his amazing expressiveness. It was almost as if he were yelling out to the orchestra. It was obvious that he put his entire self into the music and not just his arms. Throughout the entire performance my eyes were glued on him as the music filled my ears. Indeed, it was an enjoyable piece and it was actually the first time I ever heard it performed live and I was grateful I had the opportunity.

Sitting in Row B at the Singletary Center...3rd Row and awesome place to sit

Sitting in Row B at the Singletary Center…3rd Row and awesome place to sit

After intermission, the highlight of the night was having the rare opportunity to see a world-class violinist perform. What made it even more fascinating and rare was knowing that Joshua Bell was performing with his 300 year old Gibson Stradivarius violin (named after one of its early owners, the English violinist George Alfred Gibson), which is valued at over $4 million. This antique violin was fabricated by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona in 1713.. The Gibson, while owned by Bronisław Huberman, was stolen twice. Read the complete story here.

Joshua Bell performs with UKSO (Photo by Andrew Brinkerhorst, UK Singletary Center)

Joshua Bell performs with UKSO (Photo by Andrew Brinkerhorst, UK Singletary Center)

Joshua Bell opened with Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, which was written in 1866. This concerto, according to some, is one of the finest concertos in the violin repertoire. It is also considered to be the German composer’s finest score. Ironically, this was the same piece that Joshua Bell performed in his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985, when he was only 17. The flowing water coupled with the rumbling timpani and the smooth sounds of the woodwinds backing the soloist was an absolute delight.

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

And of course, Bell did not fail to impress.  He had passion written all over him in the amazing Bruch concerto. Once again, from my angle and close proximity I could see every facial crease, every smile of joy in his face and the look of contentment with this youthful college orchestra, which stepped up their game to match the intensity of the word renowned Joshua Bell. He was both colorful and provided all with a chance to hear the tones of his 300 year old violin.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

The performance closed with a fantastic rendering of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, which he wrote in 1863. This performance mixed excitement with the exotic.  The tune was colorful and lyrical and made me want to get up and dance gleefully (which I can’t imagine trying to do!!).  Bell’s fingers just rolled down the strings.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Overall it was an amazing evening of music, despite the torrential weather outside.  Ny the time the concert had ended, so had the rains.  It was a cool and refreshing walk back to the parking lot as my wife’s dreams were fulfilled in seeing Joshua Bell and my soul was filled with delight from the whimsical and mysterious music that filled the Singletary Center for the Arts.