Looking Back 45 Years – Setting the Course of My Life

Chicago VII – Released March 11, 1974

A couple of days ago I was listening to the album Chicago VII, which is one of my all-time favorite compilations of music, and certainly my favorite Chicago album. The album represented a change in direction for the group as they added a few more jazzier tones to the typical rock that they had.  In fact, that summer I got to see them in concert — my first-ever opportunity.

I have listened to this album well over one hundred times, but the other day was different.  From the onset of the first three tracks (all instrumental) I was taken back to shortly after my graduation and my mind was flooded with old memories and images, many which I had forgotten about.  It was really a strange, strange feeling.  As each song from this double album set played, more memories came.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed and by the time the album had completed, I realized that the two years of my life between graduation in 1974 and my departing on a mission to Japan for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1976 were probably the most fragile, tempestuous and most formative years of my life…even to this day in May 2019, 45 years later.

Graduation from Murray High School in Utah in 1974

In May 1974, I graduated from Murray High School in Murray, Utah. It was the first event of my life that both of my parents attended.  As exciting and fresh as that even was, earlier events from the previous two years were leading to what would become a number of major turning points in my life and really would alter the direction of it.  As early as the winter of 1972, when the family lived in Bozeman, Montana and I was a junior in high school, I was becoming frustrated with the life around me.  The family was dysfunctional, I was having to make new friends (this was my fifth school in five years) and I didn’t feel like a part of the family.  I ran away from home twice that year, once as a trial run, hitchhiking my way to Billings and then finally choosing to go all out and head to Denver, as a 16 year old. That little trick ended up getting me thrown in a juvenile detention center overnight in Denver. But that is another story.

Me in 1974…age 18

At the same time, I was searching for meaning in life.  To be frank, I was a good kid.  Never smoked, never drank, never did pot (and this was the 70s!).  These were self-induced decisions, not religious ones.  Yes, my adoptive mother Marge was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness at the time and I reluctantly attended with the family, but that really had no bearing my abstinence from these things.  I just wasn’t interested. I got high listening to good music and reading fantasy and science fiction novels.  But, I was also searching for some meaning in life.  I believed in a God, but not the definition of the Jehovah’s Witness God.  I have written about my religious leanings and LDS conversion in other posts. (See THIS POST as an example)

Mom and Dad ca. 1974

All of this led up to our move to the Salt Lake City area in the summer of 1973.  Once again, I had to attend a new school, make new friends and adjust again. I was very fortunate to have fallen into a group of friends that were great examples to me and honestly cared about me. To this day I am grateful for that. But high school was still difficult for me.  I was a non-Mormon in a predominantly Mormon (LDS) community and all of my friends at Murray were mostly LDS.  I was definitely interested in the religion and was even taking an institute class…chiefly to learn more about the LDS interpretation of who God was.  But I was still confused.  I was depressed about my family situation…the dysfunction had gotten worse and the discord between my adoptive mother and my adoptive father Joe Kravetz had increased (and by 1977 they had divorced).  I had a lust for life and thus was not suicidal, but I needed some help.  By the second semester of high school I was seeing a counselor.  They gave me an IQ test and I scored very high.  Funny…that changed a great deal of my outlook.  I was smarter than the average bear.  I finished the last semester with almost straight A’s as a result.  But, what I didn’t see coming was the massive tempest of REAL LIFE drama that would happen shortly after high school was done.

Working at Skaggs with on of my friends.

While in high school I had a job as a clerk at the Camera Department for Skaggs Drug Store in Murray.  I loved the job.  I got to interact with all kinds of people and I got to sell cameras and things.  And, the clerks in the Camera Depart were also responsible for the Record and Tape Department…and I was (and still am) quite the music lover.

It was good to have a job and some income.  I was saving for a car and had some spending money to by record albums which I would listen to in my basement bedroom late at night.  That was my escape.  My happy place.

By June of 1974, I had expressed an interest in joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My parents were not happy with that at all. In the 1970s many considered the Mormons to be a cult, and my adoptive parents were in that group.  In June I was basically told to leave the house because my parents did not want me influencing my siblings with this strange religious philosophy, despite my Dad knowing many of the members and the local Bishop pretty well.  And thus the storm had begun.  I was welcome to come over to the house and visit, as long as church was not brought up, but I had to move out on my own.  I was still 17 and was already having to find a place to live, pay rent and become an adult really fast.  My job helped, but I needed more.  Fortunately, my friendly persona and interest in music had managed to make an influence on Alan Ferguson, one of the managers for Alta Distributing Company, the group that managed the record and tape distribution for Skaggs and dozens of other large retail outlets.  One day, as I perused the new releases, Alan came up to me.  He knew I was on my own and that I needed something more than a part-time job.  He told me that they were looking for someone who could be on the road for them five days a week to fill the record racks in stores in Price and Vernal, Utah and also in Rock Springs and Evanston, Wyoming.  They would provide me with a van, which I could also use for personal use since I didn’t have a car.  It was a dream job for this young 17 year old music lover.

After a couple of weeks of training, I was on the road driving a white Dodge van filled with music and loving every minute of it.  I was staying in hotels four nights a week, eating at good restaurants and driving on long drives with music blaring in the background.  I soon made friends in some of the towns that I stayed in each week and would spend evenings with them.

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

In the meantime, I was having to wait until October before I could consider being baptized into the church.  It was not until January 1975 before I was able to get baptized. My best friend Jonathan Jensen baptized me shortly before he left on his LDS Mission to Sweden.

Soon, all of my friends were leaving on missions.  As for me, as a fledgling member of the church and one who was struggling to live on his own, Jonathan’s family became my family.  I would visit there often, or visit my other friend, Russ Graves, at his house.

Not long after that, a family in the Murray 20th Ward, the Thomas family, knew that I needed something more stable and “family like” and offered me a room in their home.  They lived across the street from the Jensens and were only two blocks from my family, so it was a nice arrangement.

With the Thomas Family and a friend (Byron) in Feb. 1976

The Thomas family was a good example to me and something I needed.  But, I also needed someone my age.

Penny Strong as she looked in 1976

I believe it was at a Stake dance that I met Penny Strong, a senior in high school from Cottonwood High School. I honestly don’t recall how we met.  But, what I do remember, is that she became like a sister to me.  Yes, I was interested in a girlfriend, but I had never had one.  But, somehow, my relationship with Penny was so much more than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.  In fact, I can still recall how often I would confide in her and her family.  They were the final cementing agent I needed to remain happy and well.  Ultimately, Penny was the person that gave me strength when I needed it.  Her father Wayne was a good man and would always give me good advice.  She had an older sister that was there as well.  To me, Penny was a Godsend to a young man that was struggling to keep a good direction in his life. I will always be grateful to Penny for being there for me.

But my struggles weren’t over.  I was a hustler.  I was a people person.  Even back in the 1970s, I had never met a stranger.  These characteristics helped me immensely in my work for Alta Distributing.  Sales in Price and Vernal increased nearly 300% in my year and a half.  So much so that Alta had decided they were going to open a record store in Price and, at the age of 18, they offered me the role of managing the store at a salary of $30,000, which was, to me, a mind-blowing amount of money.  I thought about all of the things I could do.  And, I would be in the music business still.

But, one obstacle remained in my mind.  As a member of the church I would be able to serve an LDS mission.  All of my good friends were off on theirs by this time.  Yet, I had not even been a member for one year.  I was lost in my decision making.  I would discuss this situation — good job and good future vs. two years of sacrifice and serving the Lord.  I would talk about this with Penny, the Thomas family, Bishop Jensen, etc.

Ironically, I had submitted my mission papers sometime in November 1975, not even a member for a year at that time.  It seemed like I had to wait an eternity for my mission call.  Alta had made the job offer to me on a Monday or Tuesday in mid-December, near Christmas.  They were banking on me accepting the job.  And I was seriously considering it. By that Friday, they said they needed to move on the store and needed an answer by the next Monday morning.  And, as luck would have it, I got my mission call on Saturday in the mail…  Nagoya Japan.  Leaving in February 1976. So, I was left with the mentally grueling task of making a VERY MAJOR life decision on a Sunday…basically had about 36 hours to make this decision…Mission or Record Shop?  And the tough thing was that nobody could answer me.  Either decision would have been a “righteous” and good decision.

I knew that I had come to a crossroads in my life.  I knew that whatever decision I would make…indeed, the toughest decision I had ever made in my short 19 years of life…would set the course and direction of my life. (And, little did I know how very true that would be!!).  Honestly, I think had I gotten a mission call to the United States, I may have decided on the job.  But, the wanderlust in me.  The adventurous heart in me, looked at Japan as a wonderful challenge and opportunity.

My Passport Picture in 1976

In the end, I chose to serve a mission to Japan.  Monday morning at Alta did NOT go well.  In one fell swoop I went from the good graces as an all-star in the company, to basically a company reject.  They pulled me from the route I was doing and put me on a local, less attractive route in Salt Lake City.  They said that they would consider hiring me back when I returned from my mission, but couldn’t promise anything, and certainly the store option was out of the question.

I was brokenhearted.  I had worked so hard.  I was not sure what the Japan mission would do for my future, but I moved on with faith.  I learned the language and served faithfully, as well as I could, as a one-year convert.

In conclusion, that two year period BEFORE I departed on my mission to Japan (ages 17-19) was my first true trial by fire. Did I make the right decisions?  I will never know for sure, but I think I did in the long run.  The Japan mission for me really set the course of my life as I have had many jobs that were directly a result of my language skills. Now, in 2019, as I approach my 40th anniversary of my marriage to my sweet wife Julianne, I can look back on all of the richness (not in terms of money, but in terms of experiences) my life has given me — five children, ten grandchildren, friends all around the world, amazing travel experiences and a propensity to be happy despite any circumstances.  And my heart is filled with gratitude, especially to those wonderful folks mentioned above that were there for me in my time of need back then.

Did you know I have a couple of books published?  These two books are about offbeat and quirky places to take on your road trips. You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Working on Book 3, hopefully coming in late Spring 2019!!

Crossing Paths – A Julianne Story

Julianne as a toddler

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

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

Julianne as a young girl (look at those curls)

The Bateman family early on.  Julianne on the left.

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

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

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

Bateman Siblings

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

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

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

Our first photo together ca. 1978

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

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

Julianne ca. 1978

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

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

But this story is about Julianne…not me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family in Japan in late 1980s

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

Family Fun

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

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

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

The family in Japan

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

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

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

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

The family visiting Mesa, AZ

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

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

Our family in Lexington, KY around 1995 or 1996

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

Always happy

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

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

Julianne with our five children on my 60th birthday

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

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

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

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

Julianne and David – Nov 4, 2018

A Look Back at 2017

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

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

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

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

Visiting PrecisionHawk HQ in NC in early January 2017

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

Visiting Alabama with Landen, Lyla and Joselyn

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

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

Stopover in Louisiana

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

They do get much bigger!!

Being Chunky in Chunky, MS

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

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

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

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

Uncertain, Texas

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

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

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

Thousands of snow geese take to flight in central Arkansas

Hitting Missouri with the grandkidz

Having a super time with Superman in Metropolis

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

Story, Indiana

The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!

Nashville, Indiana

Welcome to Indianapolis!

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

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

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

 

Visiting Shenandoah National Park on Easter 2017

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

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

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

Easter sunrise from atop the Shenandoah Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

With Grandkidz at Mammoth Cave NP

Mammoth Cave

At the amazing waterfall in Letchworth State Park in New York

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

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

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

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

Making a splash with my granddaughter Autumn

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

Cleveland!

With my sisters Nicole and Tina and brother Joe in Cleveland

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

Traveling to Cincinnati with Sherry and Brian to go see Chicago

Chicago Live in 2017!

One of the many roller coasters at King’s Island

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

The whole family in prime form – July 2017!

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

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

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

With my cousin Donna in 2016.

Visiting with Charles Snow

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

Happy Happy Happy

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

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

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

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

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

Love the Sandhill Cranes!

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

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

Viewing the Solar Eclipse near Hopkinsville, KY

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

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

Thousands were in chairs to see the eclipse

This kid was focused!

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

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

Total Eclipse as seen through my Nikon

I got the Diamond!!

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

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

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

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

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

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

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

Heron with breakfast

One of my many bald eagle shots

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

 

Took this Bald Eagle shot near Cave Run Lake

My happy duckling

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

A Red-winged blackbird

This goldfinch apparently had a bad day

Great White Egret in Flight

An amazing bird – the Osprey

Then there are others….

Flying squirrel

Blue Heron with Breakfast

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

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

Hanging with Eddie Flinchum at the lake

Jerome Keeler

Charles Gough

Hallie Faurest

The gang at an eagle shoot meetup at Taylorsville Lake

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

Winter evening sky at Barren River Lake

Sandhill Cranes fly across the sky

Daughter Chelsea takes after her Dad, catching the sunset

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

Brilliant Sky over Barren River Lake

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

Choose Happy

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

End of 2017 — sunrise near Barren River Lake

Remembering Tom Petty

Today started off terrible. Woke up to news of a massive shooting in Las Vegas where, at the point that I write this, at least 58 people have died. They were doing what they loved, going to a music concert. They were innocent victims. 

Tom Petty Oct 20, 1950 – Oct 2, 2017


As if that was not bad enough, one of the few musicians that I actually idolize because of his music and the inspiration much of it has given me through my life, passed away of cardiac arrest today. Tom Petty has always been one of my all-time favorite musicians. I have used the words from his “Running Down a Dream” and “I Won’t Back Down,” among others for inspiration when I have made attempts to succeed or get over hurdles in my life.

I very rarely cry when a musician passes away. These are just people that are famous in most cases. Most of them I sing along with, but few inspire. I cried when George Harrison died and I’m crying today.

Tom Petty


Tom Petty lived his dream. From the time he was a teenager he sought to become a musician. By age 17 he had traveled across the country to run down his dream. But more than that, he is been an avid supporter of musician’s rights throughout the decades.

Was he perfect? Was he a good example in the morès of life? Probably not totally so. Yes, he has done drugs and advocated it in some of his songs. He struggled, like many musicians, with many of those kinds of issues.l as a result of fame and fortune. 

But, he is one of the few musicians that I’ve taken time to learn about in detail. And I have always been impressed with his care and concern for others.

Traveling Wilburys


When he worked with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison to form the Traveling Wilburys, I was one of the first to pick up that album. I wore it out! I still listen to the traveling Wilburys, especially when I’m driving on the road alone. Now only two remain. 

Running Down a Dream


Though Tom Petty has passed, his music will still be there.

Tom…thanks for the music. Thanks for the inspiration. You will be missed.

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

Coming Soon to Sumoflam Singlewide Blog – 2015

David in a National Ad Campaign for Asahi Solar in Japan, ca 1992

David in a National Ad Campaign for Asahi Solar in Japan, ca 1992

As 2015 has already come on strong, I already have plans in the works for new blog posts and, honestly, I can’t wait, so I thought I would pop in a little teaser of what to expect over the next few weeks:

#TBT Posts

Cartoon2

Cartoon from Oita Godo Shinbun (Oita Daily News – Japan)

The #TBT (Throwback Thursday) movement is getting bigger and I have already boarded that train on my Less Beaten Paths Travel Blog as I look back at old travel journal entries that are now going to be integrated into the blog.  For this particular blog in 2015 my #TBT Theme will be “Sumoflam in the Media” and I will resurrect magazine articles, newspaper articles, television shows and commercials that I have been in over the years.

 

 

 

Second Mesa, AZ

Cover article for the Asahi Solar Magazine – Me with Hopi Indians, providing a Solar Water Heater to them in 1990.

In this I will include my short-lived TV documentaries from Japan, translated versions of my newspaper column while living in Japan, more recent publications in American Magazines and Newspapers. And, there may be a few other fun surprises.  Watch for these every Thursday (or at least every other Thursday).

A TV Food Competition Primer

FN-ShowLogo-Chopped-1920x1080I have become an avid viewer of great Food Competition programming on television, including Food Network shows such as “Chopped,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “The Great Food Truck Race,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” and more. While listening to judges, I have learned all sorts of interesting things from cooking styles, food names and, most interestingly, terminology such as “flavor profile” and others.  I will introduce you to some of these and try to explain them away. Appearance and taste aren’t the only winning things with these shows as many culinary experts are becoming TV stars.  I’ll introduce some of them as well.

Scampering with squirrels – a Photo-Essay

DSC_5838Over the last couple of years I have become enamored with squirrels!  Through all of my wildlife photography, I have captured some great squirrel shots.  At the same time, as I look out by back deck door I have thoroughly enjoyed the amazing shows that squirrels present including their leaping, their frolicking with others and their foraging.  My fascination is seemingly endless.

How to be “Awesome, but getting better”

Life is Awesome but only getting better 40 years after graduating high school

Life is Awesome but only getting better 40 years after graduating high school

I have become known for replying “I’m awesome, but getting better” when asked how I’m doing.  I am a firm believer in trying to take a positive vent on things and be resilient.

Life may be hard, but the attitude one takes can really be life changing. I enjoy every day of life despite the stresses, challenges and obstacles thrown at me. I hope to share some of this positivity in an upcoming blog post.

The Joys of Being a Grandparent

David (Grampz) with all 9 grandchildren on Christmas Day 2012

David (Grampz) with all 9 grandchildren on Christmas Day 2012

My nickname is “Grampz” to my Grandkidz.  We are all hip…we use the letter Z at the end.

I never dreamed of having 9 (and maybe more) grandchildren.

I may have been an OK parent, but I like to believe I am a Helluva grandparent!

The Selfie King – The Art of the Selfie

The Ultimate Selfie

The Ultimate Selfie – Alligator, Mississippi, June 2014

This is all about “The Art of the Selfie.” I have taken hundreds of them and love doing so.  In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries announced their word of the year to be “selfie”, which they define as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” As most of us know, the “selfie” has become a very popular form of sharing one’s activities, travels and a photograph with one’s friends, family and the world.  Though taking self-portraits has been around since the birth of photography (Robert Cornelius, a pioneer in photography, produced a daguerreotype of himself in 1839), since the mid 2000s, and especially since 2010, the genre has exploded, thanks to the proliferation of social media.

Clowning Around (Sumoelton)

Clowning Around (Sumoelton) – taken at home, Halloween 2012

I have always been one that wanted to have my picture taken wherever I went, more as a record, but in the past couple of years, with the new technologies that smart devices provide us, I’ve been very active in taking selfies without having to have other people interact with me. Honestly, with the posting of all these selfies, one might think that I am self absorbed. But that is not really the truth. I enjoy sharing the joy and excitement of the places that I have been and the activities that I have participated in.

Selfie with a HUGE potato at a drive-in theater in Driggs, Idaho

Selfie with a HUGE potato at a drive-in theater in Driggs, Idaho – March 2013

Even as a young boy I was always fascinated with being in front of the camera. Over the years I’ve had numerous “goofy” pictures taken of me and I’ve even taken a few “selfies” on my own. Here are a few “non-selfies” from years gone by.

My first "selfie" using a mirror.  I was at a barber shop in Japan when this bird landed on my shoulder.  I took it from an angle

My first “selfie” using a mirror. I was at a barber shop in Japan when this bird landed on my shoulder. I took it from an angle.  Taken in 1977 in Ogaki, Japan

I took this "selfie" in Jemez Springs, NM in Dec. 1978 - Turned the camera towards me and "point and shoot"

I took this “selfie” in Jemez Springs, NM in Dec. 1978 – Turned the camera towards me and “point and shoot”

Mirror image - used my cell phone to take a mirrored selfie at Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park, March 2013

Mirror image – used my cell phone to take a mirrored selfie at Colter Bay Village in Grand Tetons National Park, March 2013

Kewpie Hair - took this after a nap with wet hair - taken in the mirror with my cell phone

Kewpie Hair – took this after a nap with wet hair – taken in the mirror with my cell phone – July 2014

Nowadays, it seems like I take them wherever I’m at, whether I’m traveling across the country or whether I’m with my grandchildren. Taking selfies is fun for me and fun for those around me (I hope).  But they also have become a great way of documenting trips and events.

Real Quiet Lane, Lexington, KY - October 2013

Real Quiet Lane, Lexington, KY -November 2013

In May and June I took two trips across the United States. The first trip was north to Michigan and across four states to Montana to see my daughter and her family. From there I returned south into Wyoming and across Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri to return home. On the second trip I drove south through Tennessee Mississippi and Texas and then back home through Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Friendship, Arkansas - July 2014

Friendship, Arkansas – July 2014

On both of these trips I took close to 100 selfies each. Many of these were posted in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and some of my travel blog posts at lessbeatenpaths.com. As I moved across the states, friends and family were able to follow me (probably to the point of overkill). Of course, anyone that follows my adventures knows that I also like to ham it up in many of my selfies.  Always more fun.

Bison and Sumobison, Havre, Montana - May 2014

Bison and Sumobison, Havre, Montana – May 2014

In this post, I have no intention of posting all 150 or 200 of my selfies from those trips, but I am going to post a selection of them that I found fun and interesting. I will include the location and, if there is a back story, I’ll include a little of that as well. At the end of the post, I am also going to include a few of my other favorites from past trips.

Sumoflam with Hiawatha, the largest statue of a native American in the U.S. This was taken in Ironwood, MI in May 2014

Sumoflam with Hiawatha, the largest statue of a native American in the U.S. This was taken in Ironwood, MI in May 2014

I had the opportunity to visit my cousin Lew in Austin, TX in June 2014.  This is the famous Welcome to Austin mural

I had the opportunity to visit my cousin Lew in Austin, TX in June 2014. This is the famous Greetings from Austin mural

Big Fish Supper Club in Bena, Minnesota. Taken in May 2014

Big Fish Supper Club in Bena, Minnesota. Taken in May 2014

Pink Elephant in DeForest, Wisconsin - May 2014

Pink Elephant in DeForest, Wisconsin – May 2014

Not only do I find pink elephants with glasses, I can find big cows with PINK glasses - this was in Russellville, KY in June 2014

Not only do I find pink elephants with glasses, I can find big cows with PINK glasses – this was in Russellville, KY in June 2014

Bucksnort, Tennessee in June 2014

Bucksnort, Tennessee in June 2014

With Chief Washakie in Cody, Wyoming - May 2014

With Chief Washakie in Cody, Wyoming – May 2014

At Mammy's Cupboard Cafe in Natchez, Mississippi in June 2014.  Yes, I ate in that place too...unique looking place

At Mammy’s Cupboard Cafe in Natchez, Mississippi in June 2014. Yes, I ate in that place too…unique looking place

A star shining brightly at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska in May 2014

A star shining brightly at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska in May 2014

Sumoflam visits the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX in June 2014

Sumoflam visits the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX in June 2014

Personally, I think that the selfie has become a great form of “journal keeping.” These are things that will allow family and friends to look back and see what we have done. I think that too many people don’t document the things that they have done and then we lose that personal history.

At the corner of This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, Texas - June 2014

At the corner of This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, Texas – June 2014

Wyoming's Wildlife - yes, probably me...  taken at a rest area on US Highway 20 about 40 miles west of Casper, WY in May 2014

Wyoming’s Wildlife – yes, probably me… taken at a rest area on US Highway 20 about 40 miles west of Casper, WY in May 2014

Visiting Rock City near Valier, Montana in May 2014

Visiting Rock City near Valier, Montana in May 2014

I always endeavor to find unique places for selfies and just for a visit.  This was Endeavor, WI in May 2014

I always endeavor to find unique places for selfies and just for a visit. This was Endeavor, WI in May 2014

Sumoflamalope (a mix between a Sumoflam and a Jackalope.  Taken in Douglas, WY in May 2014

Sumoflamalope (a mix between a Sumoflam and a Jackalope. Taken in Douglas, WY in May 2014

Some gator teeth and me at P'maws Bait Shop in Pierre Part, Louisiana - June 2014

Some gator teeth and me at P’maws Bait Shop in Pierre Part, Louisiana – June 2014

With the old Paul Bunyan statue (built in 1937) in Bemidji, MN in May 2014

With the old Paul Bunyan statue (built in 1937) in Bemidji, MN in May 2014

Visiting the giant pyramid in Nekoma, ND in May 2014

Visiting the giant pyramid in Nekoma, ND in May 2014

With Sam Houston's head in Huntsville, Texas in June 2014

With Sam Houston’s head in Huntsville, Texas in June 2014

Naturally, when I travel, no matter when it is, I have my cameras on the ready.  In the past couple of years I try to also get photos with state signs and unique town signs. Here are a few from trips over the past couple of years.

Welcome to Winner, South Dakota.  Always great to be a Winner (and they had a major lottery winner in that town too!!) Taken in June 2013

Welcome to Winner, South Dakota. Always great to be a Winner (and they had a major lottery winner in that town too!!) Taken in June 2013

I meandered into Okay, Oklahoma in November 2012

I meandered into Okay, Oklahoma in November 2012

A visit to North Carolina in April 2013.  We actually took a trip to South Carolina and Georgia as well.

A visit to North Carolina in April 2013. We actually took a trip to South Carolina and Georgia as well.

Smile, you are in Pennsylvania...so I smiled in July 2013

Smile, you are in Pennsylvania…so I smiled in July 2013

Went through Nebraska on my to see Carhenge in May 2014

Went through Nebraska on my to see Carhenge in May 2014

Arriving in Texas on my way from Colorado and heading to Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo in June 2013

Arriving in Texas on my way from Colorado and heading to Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo in June 2013

Rudyard, Montana - and no, I am not the Old Sore Head...  May 2014

Rudyard, Montana – and no, I am not the Old Sore Head… May 2014

Welcome to Louisiana in June 2014

Welcome to Louisiana in June 2014

In Lost Springs, Wyoming (Population 4) in May 2014.

In Lost Springs, Wyoming (Population 4) in May 2014.

Had to visit the town of Cut and Shoot, Texas north of Conroe, just for a photo op with their City Hall and the town name - taken in June 2014

Had to visit the town of Cut and Shoot, Texas north of Conroe, just for a photo op with their City Hall and the town name – taken in June 2014

Naturally, I had to visit the birthplace of one of my favorite characters, Kermit the Frog, in Leland, Mississippi in June 2014

Naturally, I had to visit the birthplace of one of my favorite characters, Kermit the Frog, in Leland, Mississippi in June 2014

Route 61, the Blues Highway in Mississippi in May 2014

Route 61, the Blues Highway in Mississippi in June 2014

Heading to Carhenge in May 2014

Heading to Carhenge in May 2014

Welcome to Arkansas in June 2014

Welcome to Arkansas in June 2014

Then there are my ham it up, goofy and whimsical selfies that I love to take.  Here are a few from previous road trips and at home, around movie theaters, and other odds and ends for fun.

Bull headed at the Frontier Steak House in Dunkirk, Montana in March 2013

Bull headed at the Frontier Steak House in Dunkirk, Montana in March 2013

The Hodag and Sumoflam in Rhinelander, WI in August 2012

The Hodag and Sumoflam in Rhinelander, WI in August 2012

Home of the Hamburger - with the Charles Nagreen Statue in Seymour, Wisconsin, August 2012

Home of the Hamburger – with the Charles Nagreen Statue in Seymour, Wisconsin, August 2012

At the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tennessee in June 2014

At the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tennessee in June 2014

At the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas in June 2014

At the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas in June 2014

Being chomped by a Transformer Dinosaur at the movie theater in Lexington - July 2014

Being chomped by a Transformer Dinosaur at the movie theater in Lexington – July 2014

Escaping a T-Rex in Choteau, Montana in May 2014

Escaping a T-Rex in Choteau, Montana in May 2014

Within reach of the amazing metal dragon from Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI in August 2012

Within reach of the amazing metal dragon from Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI in August 2012

Being stomped by a giant dinosaur at the Indianapolis Children's Museum in September 2013

Being stomped by a giant dinosaur at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum in September 2013

Under a Fire-breathing Dragon in Vandalia, IL in September 2013

Under a Fire-breathing Dragon in Vandalia, IL in September 2013

Cuddling with a troll in Mt. Horeb, WI in August 2012

Cuddling with a troll in Mt. Horeb, WI in August 2012

Almost didn't see the stop sign covered in snow at the "Top of the World Store" in the Beartooth Range at 10,000 feet in May 2014

Almost didn’t see the stop sign covered in snow at the “Top of the World Store” in the Beartooth Range at 10,000 feet in May 2014

Suffering with Flamingo Pink Eye at the former Lynn's Paradise Cafe in Louisville in December 2012

Suffering with Flamingo Pink Eye at the former Lynn’s Paradise Cafe in Louisville in December 2012

Took a SumoGothic photo in Eldon, Iowa at the house used in the painting American Gothic in September 2013

Took a SumoGothic photo in Eldon, Iowa at the house used in the painting American Gothic in September 2013

Being corny at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD in April 2013

Being corny at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD in April 2013

Selfie with the Caddies of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX in June 2013

Selfie with the Caddies of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX in June 2013

Peek a Boo from behind an umbrella at Cave Run Lake in Kentucky in June 2013

Peek a Boo from behind an umbrella at Cave Run Lake in Kentucky in June 2013

Then there are my references to Antsy McClain…my good friend and favorite singer/songwriter….

Livin' the Dream - taken at a Hobby Lobby in December 2013 - refers to Antsy's CD of the same name

Livin’ the Dream – taken at a Hobby Lobby in December 2013 – refers to Antsy’s CD of the same name

Juxtaposed Antsy's Living the Dream CD with my face in July 2012

Juxtaposed Antsy’s Living the Dream CD with my face in July 2012

A "dualie" with Antsy McClain taken in 2013

An “usie” with Antsy McClain taken in 2013

Everything's a Dollar - in reference to an Antsy McClain song of the same name

Everything’s a Dollar – in reference to an Antsy McClain song of the same name

Enjoy the Ride - The Aluminum Rule from the Antsy McClain song "Living in Aluminum"

Enjoy the Ride – The Aluminum Rule from the Antsy McClain song “Living in Aluminum”

And just a few more goofball selfies to round out this post…

I get the point at Gronk's in Superior, Wisconsin in May 2014

I get the point at Gronk’s in Superior, Wisconsin in May 2014

Hanging with the Tin Family in North Dakota's Enchanted Highway in June 2013

Hanging with the Tin Family in North Dakota’s Enchanted Highway in June 2013

With a bottle of "Route Beer" at Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL in August 2013

With a bottle of “Route Beer” at Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL in August 2013

And how about some Ice Cream with that "Route Beer"... in Peoria, IL

And how about some Ice Cream with that “Route Beer”… at Twistee Treat in Peoria, IL

I always like to get a selfie at unusual places, like Stoner Drug in Hamburg, Iowa

I always like to get a selfie at unusual places, like Stoner Drug in Hamburg, Iowa

Or with famous things like the car used in American Pickers. This is in LeClaire, Iowa

Or with famous things like the car used in American Pickers. This is in LeClaire, Iowa

Took this at a place that had a bunch of totem poles made with chainsaws, in Wisconsin

Took this at a place that had a bunch of totem poles made with chainsaws, in Wisconsin

The Artsy side of me likes to get selfies where I "kind of" fit in....  This was in Council Bluffs, Iowa in August 2013

The Artsy side of me likes to get selfies where I “kind of” fit in…. This was in Council Bluffs, Iowa in August 2013

I recently read that there are now words being created for group “selfies,” with “usie” being one of the more common names, but other names are used as well.  here are a few “usie” pix I have gotten over the past couple of years….

David and Julianne at Corn Palace in South Dakota in 2012

The best “usies” are with my wife Julianne, this one at Corn Palace in South Dakota in 2012

An 'usie" with travel writer and blogger Tui Snider from Texas in June 2014

An “usie” with travel writer and blogger Tui Snider from Texas in June 2014

This "usie" is with Troy Landry, one of the stars of the History Channel's "Swamp People" series.  He hunts gators near Pierre Part, Louisiana.  I got this with him at his Dad's bait shop in Pierre Part in June 2014

This “usie” is with Troy Landry, one of the stars of the History Channel’s “Swamp People” series. He hunts gators near Pierre Part, Louisiana. I got this with him at his Dad’s bait shop in Pierre Part in June 2014

An "usie" with Danielle Colby from American Pickers taken in 2012

An “usie” with Danielle Colby from American Pickers taken in 2012

An "usie" with world renown guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

An “usie” with world renown guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

Naturally, as a grandfather of nine, I get a number of “usie” photos with my grandchildren.  My next “selfie” post will include quite a few of them, but, in closing, here are just a couple of my all time favorites to include in this first post.

With some of the grandkids in the car on the way to a movie

With some of the grandkids in the car on the way to a movie

Hamming it up with my East Coast grandson Rockwell

Hamming it up with my East Coast grandson Rockwell

A couple of the grandkids with Grandma and Grampz

A couple of the grandkids with Grandma and Grampz

Teaching my granddaughter Lyla to drive

Teaching my granddaughter Lyla to drive

Wnjoying time with my West Coast grandkids in Montana

Enjoying time with my West Coast grandkids in Montana

On that note I will end by noting that I am grateful for the wizardry of technology that allows us to do these “selfies” and “usies” and share them with the world. Photography has become fun and documenting one’s life has become more fun. Wizardry is fun…right Gandalf?

Sumoflam and Gandalf "usie"

Sumoflam and Gandalf “usie”

So, with that being said, I will probably have a couple more posts in the future of other selfies and most certainly of some family “usies.”

35 Years of Milestones – Julianne and David

Kravetz35SplashI never dreamed that someday I might be part of something bigger than me
It makes me feel humble, finally I see….All that we have is each other
And that’s all that I’ll ever need”  — Joe Walsh, “Family” from his Analog CD

As the week-long celebration of my 35 years with Julianne comes to an end, I would like to close out with a broad-brush overview of our wonderful 35 year journey (thus far!).  Yesterday I posted a video that our daughter Marissa compiled that includes dozens of photos from this 35 year journey.  If you have not yet seen it, here is the link to that post. We are really no different than any other couple with 35 years behind them.  So much can happen.  This is a look back out our journey together.

David and Julianne in Provo, UT February 1979

David and Julianne in Provo, UT February 1979

When I look back on my family’s growth and the milestones achieved over a period of 35 years, I really realize that so much has happened.  It has been an amazing ride so far! Here are a number of highlights from our 35 years (coupled with photos when appropriate):

David and Julianne Wedding Photo July 1979

David and Julianne Wedding Photo July 1979

From 1979 to 2014:

Kravetz Family ca. 1991, taken in Oita, Japan

Kravetz Family ca. 1991, taken in Oita, Japan

Family 2009

Family 2009

Kravetz Family Group photo with grandchildren and some family members

Kravetz Family Group photo with grandchildren and some family members – 2012

We had 5 children

David (Grampz) with all 9 grandchildren on Christmas Day 2012

David (Grampz) with all 9 grandchildren on Christmas Day 2012

A Kravetz four generation photo - Seth, Rockwell, David, Joe - 2012

A Kravetz four generation photo – Seth, Rockwell, David, Joe – 2012

We had 9 grandchildren

3 of our children served LDS (Mormon) Missions

Amaree on her Mission in Japan

Amaree on her Mission in Japan

o Amaree to Nagoya Japan: January 2001 – July 2002

Marissa on her mission in Thailand

Marissa on her mission in Thailand

o Marissa to Bangkok Thailand: September 2002 – February 2004

Seth on his mission in Salt Lake City South area with his companion -- Tall and Short..

Seth on his mission in Salt Lake City South area with his companion — Tall and Short..

o Seth to Salt Lake City South: October 2006 to October 2008

Both of our boys attained Eagle Scout

Seth at his Eagle Court of Honor

Seth at his Eagle Court of Honor

o Seth in March 2005

Solomon at his Eagle Court of Honor

Solomon at his Eagle Court of Honor

o Solomon in June 2007

We have lived in 18 locations (including 2 extended motel stays while looking for housing and 3 extended work-related stays for David)

o An apartment in Provo, UT

Our first rental house in Flagstaff, AZ ca 1980

Our first rental house in Flagstaff, AZ ca 1980

o 2 Houses in Flagstaff, AZ
o Married Student Housing at NAU in Flagstaff
o 2 Houses and an apartment in Mesa, AZ
o 1 Apartment in Tempe, AZ

Apartments in Oita.  We lived on the 5th Floor

Apartments in Oita. We lived on the 5th Floor

o 2 Apartments in Oita, Japan

House in Frankfort, KY

House in Frankfort, KY

o 1 House in Frankfort, KY

House in Nicholasville

House in Nicholasville

o 1 House in Nicholasville, KY

House on Stanford Dr. in Lexington

House on Stanford Dr. in Lexington – notice our old Aerostar Van

Our current home in Lexington, KY

Our current home in Lexington, KY

o 2 Houses in Lexington, KY
o 1 Apartment in Louisville, KY (David only on extended work contract – 8 months)
o 1 Hotel in Woodstock, ON (David only on extended work contract – 4 months)

Apartment in Paris, Ontario

Apartment in Paris, Ontario

o 1 Apartment in Paris, ON (David only on extended work contract – 4 months)
o 1 Hotel in Cebu, Philippines (David only on extended work – 8 weeks)

We had three college graduates (including David)

Graduation with Bachelors from Northern Arizona University - 1984

Graduation with Bachelors from Northern Arizona University – 1984

o David graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from Northern Arizona University (History/Geography/Asian Studies) and then a Master’s Degree from Arizona State University (Political Science/Asian Studies)

Amaree graduation from University of Kentucky

Amaree graduation from University of Kentucky

o Amaree graduated from University of Kentucky (Music Education)

Seth graduation from University of Kentucky

Seth graduation from University of Kentucky

o Seth graduated from University of Kentucky (Engineering)

We have traveled to 6 foreign countries (collectively)

Family visiting Usa Shrine in Japan in 1990

Family visiting Usa Shrine in Japan in 1990

David and Julianne in Kyoto with David's father

David and Julianne in Kyoto with David’s father

o Oita, Japan (lived in Oita, Japan for 4 ½ years)
o Seoul, South Korea (both went through and stayed overnight on flights)
o Suzhou, China (David spent two weeks on business)

David at "Screaming Heads" in Berks Falls, Ontario 2008

David at “Screaming Heads” in Berks Falls, Ontario 2008

o Ontario, Canada and Cardston, Alberta, Canada (Julianne visited 2 times and David spent 8 months working in Ontario)

David and Julianne in Tulum, Mexico

David and Julianne in Tulum, Mexico

o Cozumel, Mexico (David and Julianne took a cruise to Cozumel and visited Tulum)

David on a Jeepney in Cebu, Philippines in 2007

David on a Jeepney in Cebu, Philippines in 2007

o Cebu, Philippines (David took two trips and spent a total of 8 weeks in Cebu)

We have traveled all over the United States

Julianne and I, along with our family have been blessed to have traveled all over the United States, from Catalina Island off the coast of California, to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, from the Great Lakes in Michigan and Ohio to the Mississippi Delta in New Orleans.  We have traversed the Rocky Mountains, crossed the southern deserts, visited the southeast in Georgia and been to New York. The family has been to 20 or more National Parks and Monuments over the years, has visited the Statue of Liberty, the St. Louis Arch and Mt. Rushmore.  We visited Hawaii as a family in 1990 and Julianne and I took a cruise to Alaska in 2004. Marissa spent a summer in France and Amaree toured Europe with a choir. Seth and Holly have visited England and Scotland. These experiences have broadened the horizons of all of us! We have since included grandchildren in many of these trips.

Family in Monument Valley 1993

Family in Monument Valley 1993

Visiting Jamestown, Virginia in 1995

Visiting Jamestown, Virginia in 1995

Visiting the St. Louis Arch in 1997

Visiting the St. Louis Arch in 1997 (with Barbara Grandvoinet from France)

Visiting the Museum in Chicago to see the T-Rex 1994

Visiting the Museum in Chicago to see the T-Rex 1996

Solomon, Marissa and Seth at Glacier National Park in 2005

Solomon, Marissa and Seth at Glacier National Park in 2005

Marissa and her daughter Joselyn at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

Marissa and her daughter Joselyn at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico in 2011

David and granddaughter Autumn in Rhinelander, Wisconsin 2012

David and granddaughter Autumn in Rhinelander, Wisconsin 2012

Chelsea and Solomon with David's sister Sherry in New York City 1998

Chelsea and Solomon with David’s sister Sherry in New York City 1998

We have celebrated the weddings of four of our children (including 3 daughters’ weddings within a 6 week span in 2005)

All three girls married in 2005

All three girls married in 2005

Dad and three married daughters June 2005

Dad and three married daughters June 2005

Chelsea on her wedding day in May 2005

Chelsea on her wedding day in May 2005

o Chelsea married in May 2005

Amaree and Aaron June 18, 2005 in Cardston, Alberta

Amaree and Aaron June 18, 2005 in Cardston, Alberta

o Amaree married Aaron Matthews in June 2005

Marissa and Adam June 25, 2005 Louisville, KY

Marissa and Adam June 25, 2005 Louisville, KY

o Marissa married Adam Noe in June 2005

Seth and Holly wed in June 2009

Seth and Holly wed in December 2009

o Seth married Holly Walker in December 2009

So much more happened over the years.  We had an exchange student from France, Barbara Grandvoinet, who home-stayed with us for about 6 months and then came back for two other shorter visits. She has gone on to become a documentary film producer and we are so proud of her. We also hosted a well known Japanese sculptor/ceramicist, Yukio Yamamoto (from Himeji, Japan), in the 1980s when he came to Arizona.  He and his wife stayed with us for a few weeks and we were instrumental in assisting Yukio in building an ancient style Tozan kiln at my alma mater Northern Arizona University in 1985 (see article here – they misspelled my name…). Yukio passed away a few years ago.

Yukio Yamamoto and wife with some of Julianne's family at the Falls of the Little Colorado river in Northern Arizona in 1985

Yukio Yamamoto and wife with some of Julianne’s family at the Falls of the Little Colorado river in Northern Arizona in 1985

There is now a shrine to Yukio at NAU.

Yukio Yamamoto shrine and museum at Northern Arizona University

Yukio Yamamoto shrine and museum at Northern Arizona University

Barbara with Solomon and Marissa at New River Gorge, WV in Aug 1995

Barbara with Solomon and Marissa at New River Gorge, WV in Aug 1995

There is so much more that has enriched our lives over these years.  Many of the children participated in commercial video shoots in Japan (and David was in a national TV Commercial).

Chelsea in a Tokiwa Department Store Ad in 1990. Her photo hung all over the store for weeks.

Chelsea in a Tokiwa Department Store Ad in 1990. Her photo hung all over the store for weeks.

Seth in a Fukuoka, Japan Department Store Ad in 1990

Seth in a Fukuoka, Japan Department Store Ad in 1990

David in a National Ad Campaign for Asahi Solar in Japan, ca 1992

David in a National Ad Campaign for Asahi Solar in Japan, ca 1992

Indeed, this 35 years has been amazing!  I am looking forward to my 50th in 15 years!!

David and Julianne 1979 in Monument Valley

David and Julianne 1979 in Monument Valley

David and Julianne in Japan 1990

David and Julianne in Japan 1990

David and Julianne at Corn Palace in South Dakota in 2012

David and Julianne at Corn Palace in South Dakota in 2012

Cheering on UK in 2013 NCAA Championship Game

Cheering on UK in 2013 NCAA Championship Game

David and Julianne - 25 wonderful years together

David and Julianne – 35 wonderfully fun and amazing years together

Julianne and David celebrate 35 years together

My daughter Marissa compiled this look back at our 35 years of “merried” life.

This video includes music by my good friends Antsy McClain and Anthony Snape and also a touching song by Joe Walsh.

An Ode to America

SumoflamUSAAs we approach Independence Day 2014 I look at my country with different eyes than I did 20 or 30 years ago.  We have gone through some tough times as a country and these have impacted each of us at a personal level.

The economy is tougher than it has been in years and many of us, including me, have gone through job losses, economic difficulties and more. It has not been a fun ride.

Yet, we move on and we survive.  We find ways to make it.  Despite the political and ideological differences that sometimes divide our diverse population (as can be seen be all of the banter on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.), we still come together as a country.

LambertsCafeOzarkMOThis became very clear to me as I traveled across America during May and June of this year. Whether in the plains of North Dakota, the swamps of Louisiana, the mountains of Wyoming or the impoverished deltas of Mississippi, the flag hung high, people were Americans (and not political parties, races or otherwise).  All spoke their dialects of English (and indeed, American English in Minnesota is different than that of American English in a small town in Southern Mississippi or in central Nebraska).

EStLouisILUltimately, I am grateful to live in this free country.  I can gripe about rising gas prices, Obama’s political agendas, dramatic inflation, bad roads or anything else.  But, I have the right and freedom to gripe if I desire…it is my inalienable right in this country.  Something many other countries don’t have.

I have the freedom to drive across this great nation without discrimination and go through the Blackfeet Reservation, a Cajun community and predominantly Scandinavian community or a small mid-American farm town and still feel these freedoms and experience others enjoying them.

So, despite any challenges, I believe it is time for me and all of us to Fall in Love with America again.  So, here is an ode to America by my good friend Antsy McClain.  It was his reminiscence of experiences while loving in America. I was fortunate enough to work with Antsy in producing and making this video. I hope you enjoy it.