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

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: #233 – Arlene Bateman, Mother In Law

Arlene Shepherd ca. 1944

Arlene Shepherd ca. 1944

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

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

Arlene and Maury Bateman on their wedding day

Arlene and Maury Bateman on their wedding day

Arlene ca. 1950

Arlene ca. 1950

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

 

The Bateman family early on.

The Bateman family early on.

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

Arlene Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene Bateman on her 50th Anniversary

Arlene Bateman on her 50th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

Arlene and Maury Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene and Maury Bateman in the 1990s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arlene as a young child

Arlene as a young child

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

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

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

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

Always classy, always understanding ...Arlen Bateman

Always classy, always understanding …Arlene Bateman

Arlene in early 2000s

Arlene in early 2000s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pondering life's choices as a young missionary

Pondering life’s choices as a young missionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always writing and pondering.

Always writing and pondering. Ogaki, Japan 1977

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

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

Riding a train - an almost daily occurrence in Japan

Riding a train – an almost daily occurrence in Japan

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

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

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Countdown 365: #256 – Amaree Matthews

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

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

 

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

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

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

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

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

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

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

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

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

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

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

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

Amaree in an ad in Japan in the early 1990s

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

Amaree in France during her chorus days

Amaree in France during her chorus days

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

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

One of Amaree's photos near her high school graduation

One of Amaree’s photos near her high school graduation

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

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

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

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

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

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

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Dancing with Amaree

Dancing with Amaree

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

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

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

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

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

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

 

Countdown 365: #300 – Only 300 Days To 60

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

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

A slide from about 1964 or 1965

A slide from about 1964 or 1965

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

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

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

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

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

A baby photo of me probably from Albuquerque in 1957

A baby photo of me probably from Albuquerque in 1957

Another 1957 photo of me

Another 1957 photo of me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

Donning the cowboy boots in 1959

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

Another shot from New York in 1957

Another shot from New York in 1957

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

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

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

Hanging around with my brothers Danny and Aaron in 1963.

Hanging around with my brothers Danny and Aaron in 1963.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posing on a rock in the early 1960s

Posing on a rock in the early 1960s

Mischievous me - 1957 in New York

Mischievous me – 1957 in New York

Showing off the guns and six-pack in 1964

Showing off the guns and six-pack in 1964

Stylishly climing a tree in 1963 or 1964

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964

Another photo of me in a tree, probably 1964

Another photo of me in a tree, probably 1964

A balancing act

A balancing act

Climbing rocks with Danny

Climbing rocks with Danny

Staying warm in the cold mountain air

Staying warm in the cold mountain air

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

 

Countdown 365: #332 – Julianne Kravetz – My Soul Mate

(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.)

JuliSamToday is my dear sweet wife Julianne’s birthday.  She is turning 49 again.  In my list of blessings, she probably sits near the very top.  Only the blessing of life and the blessing of the Atonement can top the blessing of my sweetheart.  My life has been so abundantly filled with joy and happiness because of her.

My life would not be the same if it were not for her being a part of it.  I count myself lucky, beyond words!

 

Julianne as a baby - one of her great Photofabrique projects

Julianne as a baby – one of her great Photofabrique projects

Rainbow - I took this a couple of years in ago in Arkansas. But you get the picture.

Rainbow – I took this a couple of years in ago in Arkansas. But you get the picture.

This morning, as we left the house, it was raining and kind of blasé outside.  We have had such nice weather lately that it was disappointing to have it raining.  I lamented that I had not arranged for better weather.  But, as we drove down Alumni Drive in Lexington, the skies cleared momentarily as the sun came up at around 7:20 and lo and behold, there was a full rainbow ahead of us.  I couldn’t capture a photo of it as we were driving and by the time we dropped her off at UK, it was cloudy and gloomy again.  But, prayers were answered as she did get a rainbow on the way in.  (I have added an old photo of a rainbow I took in Arkansas…best I could do.)

Colorful julianne

Colorful julianne

Julianne is a colorful and talented individual. There are many shades to her.

She is musical…a great violinist (though she will tell you otherwise); a great coordinator of music – she has arranged compositions at home for her daughters and/or family to sing.

She is artistic.  She developed her own fabric art technique called “Photofabrique” and has taught hundreds of people in dozens of classes how to use her patterns to make fabric portraits (like the one posted up above).

Her creativity and musicality are evidenced in this great video of an instrument she created from a carrot!

FunLovingJulianne is also creative.  A great mind.  She writes papers with whimsy and colorful description.  She is a great learner and picks up on things fast.  I have watched her dig into a new software program intent on learning and before long…VOILA!….she has it down pat.

Julianne is a bundle of joy!

At Antique Archaeology in Iowa (home of American Pickers)

At Antique Archaeology in Iowa (home of American Pickers)

Mother of five awesome children

Mother of five awesome children

One of the best things about Julianne is that she has been an amazing mother (and continues to be!!) Despite a number of life challenges, living in Japan for years, traveling cross-country,  living with the family for weeks on end without me while I was away for work, she has overcome all of the obstacles and has raised 5 amazing children.  Most of the credit can go to her!!  Ask the kids and I am sure they will concur whole-heartedly! (If they don’t they will have to deal with their Dad later!)

Kiss those sweet cheeks. I have dozens of "Kiss Sweet Cheeks" pics by the way

Kiss those sweet cheeks. I have dozens of “Kiss Sweet Cheeks” pics by the way

Julianne is also an awesome grandmother.  One of her favorite things to do is to “Kiss those sweet cheeks” and she does it abundantly.

She loves her TEN Grandchildren. Yes, she has TEN of these little darlings and she doesn’t look old enough to have any grandchildren.

I have sworn that as each year goes by, she gets a year younger and I gain two. I’ll bet its the grandchildren that keep her young.  I know that its not me!

Julianne can be goofy

Julianne can be goofy

She can be a goofball at times. She is fun loving and joyful.

Whether it be using a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper as a “tooth protector” (covering all her teeth with the brown wrapper) or using empty pistachio shells as teeth, you can expect something unexpected and funny to come from her.

She would probably seriously injure me if I used some of the goofiest photos I have, but here are a couple of fun ones that I “think” I can get away with….

She took Redneck teeth with her on a Cruise to Alaska and actually wore them in a restaurant in Seattle. Here she is posing with our waiter Spike

She took Redneck teeth with her on a Cruise to Alaska and actually wore them in a restaurant in Seattle. Here she is posing with our waiter Spike

This is her Facebook Profile Photo

This is her Facebook Profile Photo

I don’t dare put her “Peel Mask” photos up…..

Number1I have enjoyed my wonderful times with this gem of a person.  She is most certainly my number 1 blessing.

She has stuck with me through thick and thin…more thick lately.

She has been there for me as a strength and support in the more challenging times of life.

She has loved me despite my quirks, foibles, weaknesses, failings and multiplicities of verbal faux pas foot-in-mouth thoughtless comments over the years.

LoveShe has had patience with me and still loves me despite all of these things.

After 36+ years of marriage and time with her, I am more in love today than I ever have been.

I adore her and almost idolize her.  Does she have weaknesses and missteps?  Not that I have seen….

Julianne is the love of my life.  I admit that “I Married Up” with all the gusto I can muster.

I Married Up....

I Married Up….

The Sweetest Kind of Hershey Kiss!

The Sweetest Kind of Hershey Kiss!

Enjoying life from the '70s on with her.

Enjoying life from the ’70s on with Julianne

Loving life

Loving life

Still loving life together in 2015

Still loving life together in 2015

Julianne is and always will be one of the greatest blessings in my life.  Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

Vicissitudes of Life: Birth and Death

The sands of time
They seem to flow
Against the grain
Of the life we know
David Kravetz, 1975

VicissitudesI wrote the above shortly before joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At the time, I was dabbling a bit in poetry and had just gone through some challenging times in my life. It was the first time I had experienced a vicissitude in my life.

Vicissitude is an interesting word. Searching through definitions, the general meaning is: A change or variation occurring in the course of something. interchange or alternation, as of states or things. vicissitudes, successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs

BackRoadLTI really like to look at “vicissitudes of life” as meaning “ups and downs” of life. We all have them and how we deal with them sets the course of our life from that point on. We all have our own special journeys as we pursue life.  Many times our paths cross with others on their journeys and the impact of the crossing of paths may cause adjustments to our own journeys.

Jamie Showkeir

Jamie Showkeir

Recently, a beloved brother in law of mine, Jamie Showkeir, passed away after a year long struggle with the devastating disease known as ALS.  Many have heard the term, but it means amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  Jamie, was dealt a new vicissitude in life down a road with a definite dead end.  And he knew it.  But he chose to deal with it rather than to let it deal with him.

In September 2014, Jamie, already diagnosed with this dastardly disease, was interviewed for an article in the Arizona Republic.  The author, Kari Bland, is a friend of Maren, Jamie’s wife (Maren is my wife’s sister). Like so many others, she was hit hard by the news.

Jamie at his best

Jamie at his best

You see, Jamie isn’t the guy this should have happened to.  He was active, he was smart, he was athletic. He practiced yoga. He had a lust for life and was an avid cyclist, hiker and nature lover. He was a talented author and teacher.

But, one day he began feeling weakness in his left arm and from that day forward, his life would change.  And the challenging part, especially for him, but really, for all of us, was knowing that the degeneration was on the body…but the mind was always alert and he had to deal with it.

Kari notes in her article “Here’s the deal, Kari, for me,” Jamie said. “We can’t always choose the cards that we’re dealt, but the choice we have is how we are going to play them.

I read that article back then and that quote has stuck with me.  And Jamie has always played the cards well.  And he did this time as well.  He passed away on his own terms, dealing with the disease and the circumstances in the best attitude he could muster.  Ultimately, Jamie died on August 16 this year, his 63rd birthday, at his home in Phoenix with his wife, Maren, by his side.

Jamie left a positive impact on 100s of people, including me.  He was a mentor to me (and he didn’t even know it!) Three or four times I called him for advice due to his wisdom of the business world. (He and Maren have authored two books).

And this is where the “ups and downs” of life come in.  The sorrow of Jamie’s passing lasted a number of months, even before it happened.  We all knew it was coming. The day it happened was hard on all of us.  However, life would continue to throw interesting curve balls along the way.

11998663_10153594403937090_269566728_nJust a two short weeks after Jamie’s passing, I got to sit in a chair at my son’s house in Connecticut and hold my brand new grandson, Samuel. He was a milestone grandson for me, my tenth. Born on August 31, he brought a new gleam of joy into my life.

I love holding newborn babies, especially those that are my grandchildren. And I so looked forward to this opportunity to be with this little guy.

As I sat with him and held this sweet child, my mind wandered off into the complexities of life, the ups and downs.  The tough swings of dealing with life and death.

11997958_10153594404197090_2070403904_nIn two short weeks I experienced the passing of a dearly beloved brother in law and then a birth of a new grandchild. The words “vicissitudes of life” bounced around in my head.  I was all at once taken aback by the waves of life. I marveled at how life’s journey can present such dichotomies in such a short time.

For me, the birth of Samuel was, in essence, the rebirth of Jamie.  The two of them will be forever etched together in my mind. No, I am not a believer in reincarnation.  But, Samuel will always remind me of the joy that Jamie brought to me and hundreds of others. Simple, unfettered joy.

And, for a few short weeks, I forgot all about my own “vicissitudes” of life and basked in the joys of life and death…of people that mean so much more than the challenges of jobs, money and things. I am grateful for Jamie.  I am grateful for Samuel.

Rowling11999959_10153594619962090_589360215_n

A Tale of Two Friends: Jonathan and Russ

Last week (July 14-16, 2015) I had a sudden opportunity to go to Utah for a quick work project for former Navy SEAL and Author Rob Roy.  It was a good opportunity for me to return “home” and to also visit with two of my life’s most influential and long lasting friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. I was blessed to spend a couple of hours with each of them (I will detail more at the end of this post).

It all started in the late summer of 1973 as my step-father was transferred from Bozeman, Montana to Salt Lake City, more specifically, Murray, Utah. At that time I would attend my third different high school in three years as I started as a senior at Murray High School.

David ca. 1973 - I looked this way my Senior Year too.

David ca. 1973 – I looked this way my Senior Year too.

We had moved to the heart of Mormon country and I was not Mormon.  But, as a fairly religious 16 year old, I decided to learn more about this church by also choosing to attend seminary, which in those days was held in a building just off of the high school campus and could be attended during school hours.

Through seminary I had the opportunity to meet new people and this was where I first met Jonathan and Russ.  It turned out that I lived in their neighborhood (and also their Church Ward).

Jonathan and Russ were part of the “in crowd” at Murray.  They were popular, they were on the football team and had lots of friends.  I was fortunate to become acquainted with them as one residing in their ward. I was often invited to participate in church youth activities with them, which I relished. I really felt lucky.

Having lived in Montana for three years (and loving it!), I spoke a lot about the state and thus received the nickname “Monty Montana” from Jonathan. I didn’t mind the nickname and it stuck through my senior year and beyond.  Everyone at Murray knew me as “Monty.” Even to this day I chuckle about that nickname, the only other one I really had besides my now well known “Sumoflam.”

David K in 1976

David in early 1976

As I pondered this early friendship the last couple of days, I was struck by the selfless and caring nature that Jonathan, Russ and a few other choice souls, mainly from the Murray 20th Ward, befriended this sort of braggish kid from Montana.  I had come from a fairly dysfunctional family, wasn’t Mormon and was starting all over again in trying to make friends as a senior in high school while still trying to find myself.  Ultimately, these friends, and especially Jonathan and Russ, changed my life direction for ever and for good.

As the school year progressed I visited Jonathan’s house often.  He lived about a block away.  His father Boyd was the Bishop of the Ward and ultimately became like a second father to me as I attended church and eventually became a member in 1975. I spent a lot of time at Jonathan’s house because there was so much contention in my home.  I wasn’t happy there, but I felt loved and accepted at the Jensen house.

The same could be said for Russ.  He and I got on very well.  We were both jokers and experts at the art of the pun. He lived a couple of blocks away and I visited his home often as well.  In fact, his mother Doris became like a second mother to me. Unlike Jonathan, Russ grew up in more modest circumstances.  His father had died a number of years before and his mother was a single mother raising a large family. I think that Russ and I appreciated each other because neither of us had much.  But, the one thing I loved about Russ’s home was the love I felt whenever I visited.  Not the love for me…but the love in the household. And I loved going there.

Jonathan Jensen in 1976

Jonathan Jensen in 1976

As I mentioned above, I eventually joined the church in January 1975 and Jonathan was the one that baptized me.  I was grateful for this.  You see, I was kicked out of the house for wanting to do this.

I need to note here that these guys were not interested in me as a “potential member” of the church.  They were interested in me as a person, as an individual and as a friend. They were really the first true friends I had ever had in my short 17 years of life.  I relished this friendship and it was the love and unselfishness nature of these guys that ultimately made me feel that I was where I was supposed to be,

In fact, I am certain that my kind Heavenly Father placed them in my path and facilitated the way for us to become long lasting friends. And these two, Jonathan and Russ, have continued to be close friends through the years, despite any distance or length of time without communication.

On my mission in Japan in 1976

On my mission in Japan in 1976 – that’s me in the middle in the back

They left on their LDS Missions in 1975, Jonathan to Sweden and Russ to Canada.  I was fortunate to still have other friends from the ward, but I really missed them.  I had a fairly good job for an 18 year old and in December 1975 I too received a call to serve a mission to Nagoya Japan.  Just the day before I had been offered a big job opportunity for an 18 year old and I had to spend a weekend stewing whether to serve a mission or to take this high paying job.  In the end, and unbeknownst to either Jonathan or Russ, I chose the mission and it was due to their excellent examples and their unfettered and unselfish friendship for me that led me to make this correct decision.

Jonathan on far right on my wedding day in Mesa, Arizona in July 1979

Jonathan on far right on my wedding day in Mesa, Arizona in July 1979

After returning home from my mission I spent many fun times with these guys.  I went to see Marx Brothers movies with Russ many times.  I ultimately moved into a house in Provo with Jonathan as I attended BYU.  The friendship continued.  When I married my sweetheart Julianne, Jonathan came to the wedding in Arizona. I was honored and grateful that my “brother” would take the time to come down from Utah for my special day.

Russ and David in Memphis in January 2004

Russ and David in Memphis in January 2004

Through the years since the 1970s, our paths diverted as I went to Japan and they got busy.  We rarely stayed in touch, but in those times when we did get together, it was as if there had never been a separation in time.  It was like old times. In 2004, Russ and one of his sons made the trip to Kentucky to visit and then we ventured to Memphis to attend the Liberty Bowl as BYU played Louisville. It was a fun time for us.  Louisville beat BYU, but that was not the memory I cherished.  It was time with my good friend Russ Graves that I valued and cherished.

Hanging with Jonathan in October 2007 at his house in bountiful, UT

Hanging with Jonathan in October 2007 at his house in bountiful, UT

In October 2007 I had the opportunity to attend a huge missionary reunion in Bountiful, Utah, which is where Jonathan lives to this day.  As the true selfless individual he was, he offered me a place to stay at his home during the visit. It was great to see all of those with whom I served on my mission with, but the real treat was spending some time with Jonathan and his family. I attended a football game, I visited with his Dad and we spent some quality time together.  I was amazed at how he made sure he had time to spend with me in the short three days I was there.  It was great to get to know his children.  He also took me into Murray to meet with Russ. We had a great time together.

Over the years, I have been able to call Jonathan for consoling, advice or to just fill him in on life.  He too has called me.  We don’t communicate often.  He has a huge family and is a busy attorney.  My conversations with Russ are even fewer.  Russ has about 15 children and has done well as a software developer.

And now, in 2015, all of us are in our late 50s (and will all be in our 60s before 2016 is over). All of three of us are grandparents.  All of us have had children serve missions.  But, the lasting, unselfish friendships still remain.  And last week’s events were a testament to this.

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort, July 2015

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort, July 2015

My flight to Salt Lake City last Tuesday had some unexpected schedule changes and this caused Rob Roy’s staff some challenges in trying to get me picked up at the airport.  I had already let Jonathan know I was coming in and that I had hoped we could meet up, even for a few minutes.

As I arrived in Salt Lake, I received a text message from Rob Roy’s staff that they were going to have trouble getting me picked up.  So, I called Jonathan to see what his schedule was like.  Fortunately for me, he had enough flexibility to come out and pick me up, even on the spur of the moment. This is the same place that he picked me up in April 1978 as I returned home from my mission.  It was not my parents…it was my best friend Jonathan Jensen.  And here he was 37 years later again picking me up.  We went for a drive south to have something to eat (and in typical Jonathan fashion he treated me).  I had let him know about the schedule mess up and Jonathan said he would take me to Sundance resort.  Bottom line, he literally dropped everything to accommodate me…the same selflessness he had shown me in 1973 as he became a new friend to a lost and lonely soul in high school. I was overwhelmed.

The LDS Draper Temple

The LDS Draper, UT Temple

We took a fabulous drive past the Draper Temple and saw a spectacular view of the Salt Lake Valley.  From there, he took me back behind the mountain and into Alpine, UT (which, ironically, is where my father in law Maurice Bateman grew up).  We took the beautifully scenic Alpine Loop up and over into the approach to Provo Canyon and ultimately Sundance Resort.

With Jonathan at Sundance Resort

With Jonathan at Sundance Resort

Jonathan could have easily said he was too busy to take me to Sundance and I would have totally understood.  But, he took me up there and then spent time talking.  We reminisced, as we always do, but we also talked about his father, who passed away in 2014, we talked about his children and their missions, their marriages and then we talked about his grandchildren. I got my stuff together and we walked and sat on a bench with a great view of the lovely Mt. Timpanogos. I was at home in the Utah Mountains and spending time with one of my all time heroes. And he made the time to do so.  We parted ways finally as he needed to return.  However, he got into Lehi and discovered I had left my wallet in the car.  Despite his schedule, being tired, etc., he turned around and brought it all the way back up to Sundance.  And that is ALWAYS how Jonathan has been…selfless, caring and loving. I am so indebted to this guy I will never be able to repay him.

With Russ Graves in Murray, UT July 2015

With Russ Graves in Murray, UT July 2015

While I was with Jonathan, we called Russ.  We were all friends of course, and have gotten together in the past.  Unfortunately, Russ couldn’t make it, but he did offer to pick me up on Thursday morning.  I was staying in a hotel in Orem, UT and Russ showed up to get me early.  Once again, like Jonathan, he moved his schedule around on the spur of the moment to do this. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, had conversations about family, talked Marx Brothers and Russ whipped off his puns as always.  He told me about his dear mother, who is now in her 80s and in a nursing home. We visited his lovely (and huge) home in Murray, where I go to see the family missionary wall, the grandchildren wall and experience the joy and warmth of his home.  I got to chat with his sweet wife Gayle, whom I still recall as the young sweet girl from Wyoming I knew in the late 1970s as she and Russ were married. Then, like Jonathan, Russ exhibited his unselfishness and loving nature and took me into the Salt Lake airport for my flight back to Kentucky.

Over the years I have developed dozens of good friendships.  Many of them will be eternal friendships.  But, of all the friends and acquaintances I have, there are none to rival the bonds that have developed over the years with Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves.  Indeed, I owe my very life’s course to them.  They changed my life forever (and for better) and for this, I will always treasure the friendship.  They have taught me over and over what true friends are.

Thank you Jonathan and Russ.