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.

40 Years of Blessings

David and friends from church as I prepare to leave for my LDS Mission in Feb. 1975 (Murray, UT)

David and friends Brett Davies and Scott Brown from church as I prepare to leave for my LDS Mission in Feb. 1975 (Murray, UT)

Today is exactly 40 years since I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These 40 years have been an amazing journey for me and I hope to use this blog post to look back on some of the highlights of what this singular event on January 26, 1975 did for me and ultimately for my family.

The Hawk Tawk newspaper from Bozeman Senior High School (ca. 1973)

The Hawk Tawk newspaper from Bozeman Senior High School (ca. 1973)

My awareness of the church, commonly known as the Mormon church, did not happen until my junior year in high school in Bozeman, Montana in 1973. at that time, I just finished the school year and was on the newspaper staff for the Hawk Tawk, which was the high school newspaper back then.

Modeling for an ad for the newspaper and the yearbook in Bozeman 1973

Modeling for an ad for the newspaper and the yearbook in Bozeman 1973

My journalism advisor (Ms. Helen Micka) assigned all of us something to do over the summer for the first and second issues of the 1973–74 school year. I received the assignment of attending the Wally Byam Caravan Club convention which is a huge airstream trailer gathering. Each year they haven’t national event and this particular year it was being held on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman.so, with camera in hand I began to attend this event.

My Wally Byam pass 1973 - yes, I still have it 402 years later!

My Wally Byam pass 1973 – yes, I still have it 402 years later!

In Bozeman, we lived about 7 miles out of town in an area known as Bear Canyon. At the entrance to Bear Canyon was a KOA campground that I frequented. And since this was summer and I was a junior in high school, I still frequented the campground, especially to go to the swimming pool or to go over to the campground office and play pool with friends. This particular summer there were a few campers with their Airstreams that did not stay at the main caravan area but selected to stay apart in their own area. One of these trailers was from Summit, New Jersey. It was a family of four, the Gilmans, who had decided to attend the convention, but wanted to stay off-site. I remember even now their two lovely high school aged girls.One was a senior in high school and the other was a sophomore at the time, if I recall correctly. As they were there for about a week I visited with them daily and even took them on a few little tours around the mountains of Bozeman.

David K Bozeman 1973

This is me in 1973 in my fancy dancy embroidered bell-sleeve shirt and with my favorite bike. I rode it everywhere. This was our house in Bear Canyon, outside of Bozeman, MT

Home in Bozeman, MT (ca 1973)

Home in Bozeman, MT (ca 1973)

One of the things I learned about them was that they were Mormon. The girls had no problems telling me about their church or their beliefs. They gave me a Book of Mormon (you can get one here today if you wish…totally free!) and I learned quite a bit about them. (Later correspondence with Sue Gilman in 2015 had her indicate that she was glad to play a small part in sharing the gospel. What she may not have realized is that he “small” part in sharing with me has led to the conversion of dozens of people. I served a mission and brought people into the church , some of whom later served missions. I had three children serve missions as well. Many of these converts will bring others to the church. Indeed, her little mustard seed has grown to a giant tree!!)

At that time I was desperately seeking for some sort of direction in my life. My mother at that time was a Jehovah’s Witness, my father was Jewish, but not at all participating in the faith. I had often gone to the Kingdom Hall for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but there was just not the feeling that I would expect to get in wanting the truth of the Gospel. And I was always seeking for the truth, prayerfully. After hearing about the Book of Mormon, I took it home because I was interested in religion. That was a big mistake! No sooner did I bring it home and my mother was adamant that the Mormons were a cult. She took the Book of Mormon from me and threw it away and told me to never deal with the Mormons.

Mom and Dad ca. 1974

Mom and Dad ca. 1974

After this event, the Gilman family left Bozeman and the Wally Byam event was over.  I pondered what they had said and continued praying for guidance and direction in my life.

An old photo of a Skaggs Drug.  My Dad worked for them for many years.

An old photo of a Skaggs Drug. My Dad worked for them for many years.

Ironically, my father, who at the time worked for Skaggs Drug in Bozeman, got a call and was transferred, of all places, to Salt Lake City, Utah. So, here we were moving to the heart of Mormon country just a couple of weeks after I had been told about the gospel by the Gilmans from New Jersey.

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

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

By the end of the summer we were now in Murray, Utah and I was preparing to go to high school. Many of the high schools in Utah had a building to the side of the schools that was set aside for LDS seminary. When I was registering for classes I was asked by the counselor if I would like to take seminary. I had no idea what it was, but I also thought this is a good chance to learn more about the Mormons and to possibly make some new friends since I was new in school.

My house in Murray, UT (ca. 1974)

My house in Murray, UT (ca. 1974)

School started and I was fully engaged in my classes, including seminary. Much to the chagrin of my parents I continued to study and learn about the Mormons. Unfortunately for me, because I was not yet 18, I could not gain permission from them to be baptized as they were still very against the church and its teachings, though they did like the people.

What I did discover through going to seminary was that, based upon my understanding of the gospel, this seemed like the true church to me. Mind you, I prayed feverishly about this. It was not something that I was doing out of peer pressure or anything like that.

Outing with church guys to Jackson Hole

Outing with church guys to Jackson Hole, WY  (ca. 1975)

By May 1974 I pretty much had a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I had studied seminary, I had read the Book of Mormon and I had talked with many of my friends to learn more about it. I was engaged in church activities such as basketball (see a post about this) and youth programs.I was also taking the missionary discussions.

Church Basketball Team 1975

Church Basketball Team 1975

As summer came along, my mother and father were very displeased with my desires to join the Mormon church and they actually asked me to move out of the house for so doing. I was still 17 and was not able to get baptized without their permission, but I continued to struggle along while living on my own a couple of miles from home.

Finally, when I turned 18 I was able to start the efforts to get baptized. I retook the missionary discussions from the older brothers of two of my close friends (Jonathan Jensen’s brother Boyd — who was also the son of the Bishop of the Ward; and Brett Davie’s Brother Lynn).  These two, Boyd and Lynn, had both just gotten home from their missions and were great! I did those things that I was directed to do and by January 1975 it was time to get baptized.

Boyd Jensen (L) was one of the two that taught me in 1975,

Boyd Jensen (L) was one of the two that taught me in 1975,

Some of my friends had already left to serve missions for the church, but my best friend at the time, Jonathan Jensen, was leaving on his mission at the end of January and so I chose to have my baptism just before he left on his mission so that he would have that experience and I could be baptized by my best friend.

Best friend Jonathan Jensen, who baptized me.  This was him in 1976 just after I returned from my mission.

Best friend Jonathan Jensen, who baptized me. This was him in 1976 just before he left on his mission. (He will hate me for posting this photo…he never liked it)

Typically, when one is baptized in the LDS Church, it is by immersion, total immersion.  But on this fortuitous day, Jonathan didn’t get me all the way in, so we had to do it a second time, and then a third…UGH!!  He told me afterward that I probably needed extra cleansing!  No doubt.

Bishop Boyd Jensen of the Murray 20th Ward...he was like a second father to me.

Bishop Boyd Jensen of the Murray 20th Ward…he was like a second father to me.

Bishop Jensen and his wife Beverly (February 1976)

Bishop Jensen and his wife Beverly (February 1976)

With the Thomas Family and a friend in Feb. 1976

With the Thomas Family and a friend in Feb. 1976

Soon thereafter, Jonathan left on his mission to Sweden.  My other good friends were all pretty much gone as well.  So, I continued to work all through the summer.  At the time I was working for a record and tape rack jobber called Alta Distributing.  I got to travel all over Utah and Wyoming distributing records.  I did a good job for them and helped increase sales since I really knew the music (and I still do!).  I eventually moved in with the Thomas family, across the street from the Jensens.  It was nice to be near them.

David K in 1976

David K in 1975

I finally turned 19 in 1975 and could get ready for a mission.  By late October I was already filling out mission papers even though I had not been a member of the church for a year yet.  Technically, the rule was that I could not leave on a mission until I had been a member for a year, but there was nothing stopping me from submitting the paperwork before then.  In the meantime, I continued to work and save for my mission.

I honestly don’t recall exactly when I submitted the paperwork for the mission, but I do recall that it took forever to get my mission call.  By December 1975 I was really getting antsy about it.  To make things worse, Alta Distributing had decided to open a record store in Price, UT in 1976 and they had discussions with me about managing it.  In fact, one day the last week of December 1975 they offered me the position at a whopping $30,000/year.  That was almost too good to turn down…but I was waiting on my mission call. Finally, on a Friday, I told them that if I didn’t get my mission call over the weekend I would take the position.  And what happened?  I got it on Saturday and had to stew the entire weekend.  I fasted and prayed.

Oh, yes, I was called to serve in the Japan Nagoya mission.  Japan had never crossed my mind.  I thought for sure I would go to Europe!  In any case, after thinking about fish heads and rice, I decided on that Sunday I would serve. I let the guys at Alta know on Monday morning.  It was one of the most difficult choices I have ever made in my life, even to this day.  But it was the right one.

Missionary Farewell talk in February 1976

Missionary Farewell talk in February 1976

Leaving the Language Training Mission to head to Japan in April 1976

Leaving the Language Training Mission in Provo to head to Japan in April 1976

I spent two months in Provo, UT learning Japanese, but finally was able to leave, with about 18 others, in mid-April for a life changing experience in Japan.

This is the group I spent two months with in Provo learning Japanese.  We all took the flight to Japan together. (ca. April 1976)

This is the group I spent two months with in Provo learning Japanese. We all took the flight to Japan together. (ca. April 1976)

Welcome to Nagoya in April 1976

Welcome to Nagoya in April 1976 – with mission president Satoru Sato on the left

My experience in the mission field strengthened my testimony in the gospel.  It was wonderful being strengthened by others, many who have become lifelong friends.  Here are a couple more photos (of the 100s that I have) from my mission.

At Nagoya Station October 1976...my first transfer

At Nagoya Station October 1976…my second transfer – heading to Fukui

In front of our apartment in Ogaki, Japan in August 1977

In front of our apartment in Ogaki, Japan in August 1977

Elder Lee Richan became one of my most favorite companions and was a life long friend until he passed away in 2012. Here we were in Fuji, Japan in April 1978, just before I returned home.

Elder Lee Richan became one of my most favorite companions and was a life long friend until he passed away in 2012. Here we were in Fuji, Japan in October 1977, just before I returned home.

So, the mission ended and I returned home to the US in February 1978.  During my mission, my mother had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and become involved in the Baha’i faith.  Both she and my dad had softened up on my church membership as they saw through my letters home how things had been for me.  However, things were not so well for them.  While I was on my mission, they divorced.  My mom was living in a trailer in Jemez Springs, NM and my Dad had been transferred to Colorado.  Upon my return home, all of the family got together at the trailer in Jemez.  It was nice to visit all of them.  We also got a family photo, the only photo that all of us had been in together.

The family together in 1978 after my mission.  This was the only family photo we ever had together.

The family together at Christmas in 1978 after my mission. This was the only family photo we ever had together.

Mom's singlewide trailer in Jemez Springs, NM (ca. 1978)

Mom’s singlewide trailer in Jemez Springs, NM (ca. 1978)

It was nice to get them all together. Though my mother passed away in 1981, as a family we have only gotten together a couple of times since.  After visiting with them I went back to Murray to get life restarted.  I stayed with the Thomas family, got a new job with Alta and was back on track.  I also decided I would attend BYU, so I started that process.

In late July I moved to Provo.  Jonathan and some others had a house in Provo that I could live in, so I left Alta, moved to Provo and got a job at JC Penney as of August 1.  A whole new change in life.  And then a most unusual thing happened.  I went to church in a ward in Provo and, lo and behold, I ran into Sue Gilman, the same girl whom I met in Provo.  She was as surprised as I was!!  Obviously, she had no idea that I had joined the church. Personally, I think it was the Lord telling us both that He directs affairs and wanted us both to know that we had done the right things ultimately.  What a blessing that was!

While in Provo I had a few girlfriends and one quite serious relationship that ended up going sour.  But, I also ran into a girl at a bus stop that had my heart.  We had both missed the bus back in October 1978 or so.  Turns out that she worked at J.C. Penney as well and I got a ride into work with her.  She worked in the cafe, so I would occasionally go over an visit, but nothing serious ever happened.  She then went home for Christmas, which saddened me…all I knew was her first name…Juli.

My first photo with Julianne, in January 1979 in Provo, UT

My first photo with Julianne, in January 1979 in Provo, UT

Then, on January 4, 1979, school was back in session.  I was walking down the hall and she came up to me and said hello. WOW!  I got her number, called her for a date and the rest is history.   On January 15, 1979 I asked her to marry me in a cold snowy day, up in Provo Canyon.  We eventually were married exactly 6 months later.  And I know that this blessing would have never come had I not been baptized.

Wedding Photo - July 1979

Wedding Photo – July 1979

From our marriage, during the 1980s, we had five children.  I graduated from NAU and ASU.  We traveled to Japan as a family and lived there.  As our children grew older, we moved to our home in Kentucky.  So much has happened (which is all really another story).

My wife and children in 2009

My family in 2009

Kravetz Family Group 2102

Kravetz family group shot Christmas 2012. Includes children, grandchildren, father, sister and her family. The ultimate blessing!

Daughter Marissa readies for mission to Thailand

Daughter Marissa readies for mission to Thailand

Three of my children followed in my footsteps and served LDS Missions.  Amaree, my oldest, served in Japan.  In fact, she was one of the same areas as I was and attended the baptism of young boy whose mother I taught when I served my mission. Just another testimony to me that I made the right choice.  Marissa served in Thailand.  My son Seth got called to the Salt Lake City South Mission…yet another strange twist of events in my mind.  I lived there and joined the church there.  And on Seth’s final Sunday, I got special permission from the mission president to allow Seth to visit the Murray 20th Ward and speak in church as a guest speaker. He was able to express gratitude for me and also tell them what blessings they had provided through my baptism.  They could see the fruits of their labors.

My son Seth on his mission in Salt Lake City...returning to the site of my baptism

My son Seth on his mission in Salt Lake City…returning to the site of my baptism

In closing, it is amazing to look back down a 40 year old path and see all that has happened as a result of that one decision and one action in life. The path has not been easy, and was probably not intended to be easy.  I am sure there are many more challenges to come.  But the real blessing is seeing it in hindsight and knowing that good decisions ultimately bring about good results.

matthews0112So, 40 years later I still stand by my decision and am grateful to those that made it happen and grateful to God for all that has happened since.  My life has been blessed abundantly.

Feeling Blessed

Feeling Blessed