45 to 40: The Traveler

When we first met in Provo in 1978 I don’t think either of us had an inkling of what lay in store for us and our future together. Like any youthful souls, we had idealistic hopes and dreams. Of course, our main goal after being engaged was getting married, starting a family and finishing college.

Little did we know in July 1979, as we were bound together in loving matrimony, that we would have a future filled with the wonder of travel. For me, by the time I was 22 and married, I had already lived in five states and six cities. I had traveled to Canada twice on band trips.  Julianne, on the other hand, had grown up and lived in Mesa, Arizona all of her life. The majority of her travels had been to Utah for family gatherings and to California to stay with her oldest sister Kathy.  She did make a cross country trip in 1978 with the BYU Orchestra, which also went into Toronto and on to Washington, D.C.

Our first road trip together, during our honeymoon, was to Monument Valley in southern Utah in 1979.

After vacillating to determine my  college direction, I ultimately settled on a dual major in Asian History and Geography at Northern Arizona University. I probably followed my heart more than my brain. My original plan was to become an attorney, but various things along the way led me to choose a different path. Admittedly, my sweet wife was not happy with my change in direction, but, thankfully stuck with me all these years, even though the “what ifs” have often crept into both of our minds at times.

We later visited Monument Valley with the family in 1993

Family visiting Abraham Lincoln home in Springfield, IL in the late 1990s

As I look back today, I honestly believe that following the path we chose has enabled us to have a life rich in experiences. We have never had the riches that many lawyers enjoy, but I think we provided our children opportunities and memories that few American children, especially those born in the 1980s, ever got to experience.

By 1987, we had the opportunity to live and work in Japan. Our children went to Japanese public schools, got to be in numerous TV commercials, were in local TV shows, learned a new language and culture and all that came with that.   They were enlightened with a mindset of diversity and global thinking.  And I am grateful for that.

The family in Oita Prefecture in Japan in 1989, visiting with Governor Morihiko Hiramatsu, who I worked for.

The family visiting the Usa Shrine, one of Japan’s famous Shinto Shrines.

My Dad visited us in Japan in 1991 and we went to Kyoto, where we visited the Kinkaku-ji (The Gold Pavilion)

Julianne and David, visiting the old Tulum ruins in Mexico as part of a cruise.

At the age of 20, I don’t think Julianne would have believed anyone if she were told she would live in Japan for four and a half years and have the opportunity to visit places in Canada and Mexico while also traveling to most of the 50 United States, including Hawaii and Alaska.  But, that we did.  We enjoyed many opportunities to travel together and continue to do so to this day.

Japan was quite the culture shock for Julianne initially.  The weather was different, the people were different, the language was strange and many of the foods she was offered were a bit more than unique.  But, like our children, she learned to love the land and the culture, became engaged and conversant in Japanese and really found great pleasure in the variety of unique dishes in Japanese cuisine, as well as the Japanese take on other ethnic foods.  To this day, all of us enjoy the variety of foods from all over the world.

Julianne enjoys some real ramen with Marissa and Chelsea at a small Mom and Pop ramen shop in Japan in  June 1988

We still enjoy good food. Here we visited Koreana, a local Korean restaurant with my cousin Lew and his daughter.

Visiting the Mystic Pizza shop in Mystic, Connecticut

Over the past 15 years or so, we have traveled all over the United States.  At one time, we had Amaree living in Montana and then they moved to Port Orchard, Washington.  Seth got his first job out of college and lived just north of Cincinnati, but job changes eventually took him and his family to Connecticut and later to Houston.  This meant opportunities to travel for visits.  These became long trips that afforded us the opportunity to see many new places.

Then, in 2017, we had a giant family reunion that began in Kentucky and eventually took most of us as far east as central New York.

Watching the grandkids on the beach at Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

Visiting the Field Museum in Chicago with family

Julianne and I at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota

Travel in Virginia

Visiting the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

We were able to check out glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska

With family in West Virginia

Julianne on a canoe trip with Chelsea and her family on the Little Miami River in Ohio

On a visit to Washington, we got to see Mt. Rainier National Park

Chelsea and Julianne at Letchworth State Park in Castille, New York

Visiting Antique Archaeology, famous for the TV show American Pickers in Le Claire, Iowa

Julianne having fun on the beach with grandchildren in Hilton Head, South Carolina

Enjoying the grandeur of Glacier National Park in Montana

Visiting Pittsburgh on a recent trip to visit her sister

Travel runs in our veins.  Julianne may not like the long road trips that I enjoy (as do many of my children and grandchildren), but she still loves to travel.  Annually she has a sibling trip to San Diego where she spends her time in a family time share on the Pacific coast.  And now that her sister Laura is closer, we make occasional trips to Pennsylvania or meet Laura and her family in Ohio or West Virginia.

I am grateful that we have had so many adventures and memories.  I hope for even more to come.

Enjoying the beach in San Diego with her sisters Maren, Kathy and Laura

Do you like travel? Are you aware that I currently have two books about offbeat and quirky places?  You can use these to take on your road trips. You can see both of my books at http://amzn.to/2ks6fQZ. Working on Book 3, coming in late Spring 2019!!

60 to 40: Let the Countdown Begin!

I have been waiting almost a year for this day. It is officially 60 days away from my 40th anniversary of marriage to my sweetheart Julianne.

What a momentous time for us! The past 40 years have brought so many wonderful blessings into our lives and offered us so many wonderful opportunities to grow closer and to learn about life and love. I have cherished every moment, even the difficult and challenging times.

Over the next 59 days, I plan to post a different outlook on my sweet wife and what I cherish most about having been with her for 40 years. It has been a wonderful journey and I hope that it continues on for much longer.

Julianne and David – May 2019

All I want to say in this post, is that it has been a ride! In 40 years we have had five wonderful children, all of whom are, at the time of this writing, in their 30s. Four of our children have married and we have, through them, 10 wonderful and talented grandchildren, including two teenagers! In our 40 years we have lived in nine different cities, including four years in Oita, Japan. Both Julianne and I have had a variety of jobs, some full-time and some part-time over the years. Over the next 59 posts I will mention some of those as well. During the course of our marriage, we have owned 10 different cars, we have lived in 13 different houses and/or apartments, we have traveled all over the country both with our family and together as a couple. In 45 days from now we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of moving into the house that we currently reside in.

Through the ups and downs, the challenges and successes, the difficult times in the joyful times, ours has been an abundant journey. For this I can’t my blessings. I hope you will follow us over the course of the next 59 days as I spend a portion of each day celebrating The absolute love of my life, the woman and friend who is stuck with me through thick and thin over these 40 years.

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!!

One Man’s Theory: A Stark will be on the Iron Throne, but not the one you think

WARNING:  MAJOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

Daenerys Targaryen lost a second dragon last week in Game of Thrones and is overwhelmed by the death of her loved advisor Missandei. Jon Snow and his forces face a major challenge getting past Euron Greyjoy’s ballisti, the giant dragon-killing and boat-crushing crossbows.  They are at odds and the end of the Starks may be coming. The Iron Throne is seriously up for grabs.  Can a Stark still pull it off?

The Stark family

If you have seen Game of Thrones Season 8, you know that Arya Stark pulled off a total last second surprise against the Night King, killing all of his Undead Hordes in one stab with a sword.  As well, if you have seen Endgame, you know that Tony Stark, aka Ironman, pulled off a similar last second victory by pulling the Infinity Stones out of Thanos’ guantlet and thus dusting Thanos and his evil hordes.  The last second Starks…

The Starks are last second heroes

Flash to the future several centuries, where Stark ancestor Tony Stark is working with the Avengers to bring back all of those who were dusted by Thanos in Infinity War.  We learn from Endgame that Tony has figured out how to go back in time to bring back those that were dusted by Thanos. What was not shown in Endgame (to avoid any Game of Thrones spoilers — IRONic that these are both showing at the same time) was that Tony Stark knew his lineage came from the Starks and upon discovering he could go back in time, he used this power, along with the newly acquired Infinity Gauntlet, to actually go back to the time of the battle at King’s Landing and even dropped by the celebration at Winterfell to leave a hint!!

Yes, remember the coffee cup fiasco on Game of Thrones from last week?  Well, if you watched Endgame carefully, you would notice that just before all of the Avengers got onto the time machines to go back, Tony was holding what looks to be the same coffee cup (next time you see Endgame check it out!)  Everyone was so drunk in celebration, that they didn’t notice Tony’s two second appearance to drop the cup in front of Dany!

Dany with the Coffee Cup, left in a flash by Tony Stark on his way to King’s Landing

 Well, as we shall see, the battle for Westeros at King’s Landing will heat up, and, all of a sudden, above the skies there will be a massive circular flash of light unlike anything anyone in Westeros had ever seen.  Both sides were stricken with fear, for out of nowhere, like his ancient ancestor Arya Stark, Tony Stark, as Iron Man, appears and in one flashing swoop destroys Euron’s ballisti, shreds Ser Robert Strong and takes control of the battle at the last moment, capturing and dethroning Cersei.  Then, the man of Iron takes the Iron Throne.

Iron Man on the Iron Throne (artwork by James Zapata)

A Stark is now on the Iron Throne.

Tony Stark is the Stark that will be on the Iron Throne

And though he will face eventual death in the future, while sitting on the Iron Throne after the victory at King’s Landing….Tony Stark says, “I am the Lord of Westeros, the destroyer of Thanos, the King of the Seven Kingdoms…indeed, I am Iron Man, and the Iron Throne is mine.”

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 1: Life’s Journey

Our Life Journey is a long road

As we approach Thanksgiving 2018, I have taken tome to reflect on those things that I am thankful for, probably more than I have in the past.  As a 62 year old, I have a great deal to look back on and to be thankful for.  So, for the next week, through the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I am doing a post each day to express my gratitude for the various segments of my life.  Some of what I write may be more personal than others may want to see, but to me, these are the main things I want to express my gratitude for.

Which way do we go?

I want to start out this week long effort by expressing my gratitude first and foremost for my life’s journey.  Each of us must walk the paths of our lives’ journeys.  Nobody else can walk this path. Interestingly enough, our journey is not really our own until we leave our parents and our homes.  We all start our journeys on the backs (or in the hands) of others.  And that initial part of the journey may very well lay the foundational footpath for our own personal journey.

 

We must all have our choices

Being a Christian and believing in a pre-existence and an after-life is always helpful to me in understanding and appreciating my journey.  I believe that my Father in Heaven let me know what treacherous and difficult paths would lay ahead of me as I came to earth.  I accepted that knowing as well that I would be blessed with guidance from Him along the way as well as the ability to choose which way to go.  I don’t believe for a moment that God laid out a specific course for me to take.  Rather, he set things in motion for me to take paths with many forks in the road.

I believe this is the earliest known photo of me, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born.

My journey began in Cleveland, Ohio in early October 1956. I was born into an Italian family (my birth name was Carmen David Laurienzo), but to a Jewish mother. My father, Joe Laurienzo, was a the son of a migrant Italian name Carmine Laurienzo.  From all I know, Joe was a hard working individual.  He lived in the same home as his father on Murray Hill Road in the Little Italy district of Cleveland.

I will never know for sure how my Italian Catholic father met and ultimately married my German Jewish mother (Orene Goldberg, later to be known as Jennierose Lavender). But, I was conceived and was, at the time, the beginning of the third generation of Laurienzos to be born in and live in the house on Murray Hill Road.

The home I was born into on Murray Hill Rd. in Cleveland, OH. This was taken about 1956/57

Joe Laurienzo and Orene ca. 1956 or 1957. This is the only photo I have of both of my natural parents together.

And thus began my amazing journey.

Mother Orene and me

By the time I was 10 months old, in August 1957, my journey took a turn.  Giving in to pressure from her staunch Jewish mother (Marion Goldberg) in Albuquerque, Orene left with me while the Catholic side of the family was all celebrating the Feast of Assumption Festival…one of the biggest annual events in this little corner of Cleveland. I was essentially snuck away, never to meet my natural father, who, I came to find later on, was heartbroken.  Just a little over one year later, Orene was being remarried to the second Joseph in my life, Joseph Kravetz, in a fairly social Jewish ceremony.  They were married in Albuquerque on Dec. 21, 1958.

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

As a very young child, i had already experienced some major directional changes in my journey.  And this would ultimately be the way of life for me for at least the next 15 years of my life. Orene and Joe K ended up having a son together in 1960 (Aaron). Then she left us.  She left Joe Kravetz alone to raise my younger half-brother Aaron and me.

As a young four year old, I am sure that somehow I managed to blame myself for her leaving.  As for Aaron and me, we ended up with a number of babysitters to take care of us while my Dad worked. Some of them would come and go.  It was a tough rocky road for these two little boys.

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

Joe Kravetz eventually participate in some single-adult parent organization (or something) and later met Marjorie Biel (nee Tudor), who had become divorced and had a young boy (Danny), 16 days younger than me.  I believe that they both married out of necessity more than love.  Nonetheless, as a young child, I was piggybacked into this relationship, which brought forth two more children (Gary in 1964 and Sherry in 1967).

Marge with David, Danny and Aaron in 1963 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico.

Joe and Marge in 1978 in Jemez Springs, NM. By this time they were divorced but posed for this photo.

Through adoptions, all of us became Kravetz kids.  But it was a hodge-podge family.  Dad worked all the time for a drug store chain.  Mom (Marge) was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and would take us to the Kingdom Hall a couple of times a week. She diligently sought to make sure we had a religious upbringing.  She had health issues and struggled in her relationship with Joe.  But, kudos to both of them as they made the courageous choice to stay together, despite deep-rooted differences and a great deal of family dysfunction and challenge (Danny was “mentally retarded” – a term used in the 1960s/70s). Aaron and I could be unruly.

Between 1965 and 1974, we had moved four different times to four different cities due to my Dad’s job transfers. More rocky, rutted roads for my life journey lay before me.  New homes, changes in schools, new friends, leaving old friends. It wasn’t easy for any of us.  By the time we were in Bozeman, Montana, I had run away from home twice to get away from the dysfunction…  I was ready to journey forth on my own personal journey and off of the piggyback roller coaster ride I had experienced.

Joe Kravetz and Marge, with my brothers and sister – Aaron, Danny, Gary and Sherry in 1978   This was the only complete family photo we ever had.

I will say here that Joe Kravetz and Marge did the very best they could with what was handed to them.  They both had their emotional baggage and the five children, who were, without choice, along for the rocky ride, had to learn to deal with it all, and we all did in our own ways.

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

I had always been the prayerful type.  I believed in a God and I prayed for a miracle on many occasions.  Mine came in the chance meeting of some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bozeman in the summer of 1973.  The one week that I spent visiting with this family from New Jersey every day set me on my own path and in my own direction…one that would ultimately get me asked to leave my home as a 17 year old in Murray, Utah in the summer of 1974.

So, finally, in 1974 I began my own journey, making my own choices on my life’s direction….both good and bad.

After graduating high school in Murray in 1974, I had to make many huge, life-altering choices.  I came to one fork in the road after another, knowing full well that the choices made at those crossroads were ones I could never go back on and “try again.”  That’s the funny thing with choices.

Working as a missionary in Japan from 1976-78

After choosing to be baptized into the LDS Church in January 1975, I had made choices to leave jobs to take on other “grass is always greener over there” kinds of jobs.  Then, it happened…  the first big big big choice.  Do I serve an LDS mission or do I take the really good paying job?  It would have to be one or the other.  In the long run, I chose to serve and this really set the direction for my life journey from then on.

Since that time, my journey has meandered in many directions.  Life has had many challenges, ups and downs and frustrations.  But it has also been filled with joy, happiness and smiles.  Bottom line, I have had a wonderfully rich life and over the next week will show my gratitude to the many things that have crossed my journey’s path.

I am very grateful for my personal journey and for those that have spent part of their journeys walking by my side on mine.

Life’s Been good

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.

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

2015 In Review: People, Friends, Family and More

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015The world is filled with people. And people enrich our lives. I have never written a post in the past just focused on the people in influences that they’ve had in my life. Any of my post to be included comments about people and it includes my life, but over the year 2015 I found it I had many people that had a profound and positive impact on my life and I wanted to make note of that in this post.

Hanging with daughter Amaree and her husband Aaron in Washington, Aug 2015

Hanging with daughter Amaree and her husband Aaron in Washington, Aug 2015

I was blessed to spend time with all of my children and grandchildren
at one time or another this year. That is probably the best and most
blessed of all of my people experiences. But there were many others, both old and newly made friends, and other people who I met along the road of life during the year.

All of these people added to the great year I experienced in 2015.

With newly minted son-in-law Jorge Mendez

With newly minted son-in-law Jorge Mendez

Hanging with daughter Marissa on one of our trips in 2015

Hanging with daughter Marissa on one of our trips in 2015

Smile Man in Seattle

Smile Man in Seattle

I think of the stranger that I met on the streets of Seattle who stood on the corner holding a sign that you said smile be happy. He was not seeking donations. He was not seeking welfare. He was wanting people to smile. He kind of became a symbol for my year.

I made some new friends and acquaintances over the year. Some of these are artists or authors and I was able to enjoy and appreciate them.

Sumoflam with Rob Roy in 2015

Sumoflam with Rob Roy in 2015

One of these was former Navy seal and Author Rob Roy. I noted on more than one occasion how his book the Navy seal art of war inspired me and help me on my path to a more healthful life.

Then there is my friend the musician Pete Huttlinger. He too inspired me with his current. A great guitarist and musician who has performed over the years with John Denver and many others, Pete has suffered from a heart defect that almost caused him to lose his life. With his
wife Erin, they have struggled and he is come back. This year he to wrote a book with his wife, it is inspiring and I can’t wait to dig into it. And, as I do I will listen to his inspiring music as well.

Pete Huttlinger

Pete Huttlinger

With pal Kevin Twitchell at Woodflock 2015

With pal Kevin Twitchell at Woodflock 2015

During the summer, beginning in May, I had wonderful opportunities to travel to San Francisco and up to Red Bluff, CA and visit with many old friends that are associated with my very close friend Antsy McClain. This was my first venture to Woodflock and many of the people that were in attendance were people whom I had met in the past or who I became very good friends with over Facebook as a result of my association with the band.

Along with too many friends there, I got to get back together with Antsy’s saxophone and slide guitar player Bruce Wandmayer. Bruce is
himself, a wonderful person and a fabulous musician. On this occasion I also got to meet with his wife who, during the event, did morning
meditation. And really took me to another level as I listen to her. She is one of those people that brings peace to you just speaking and mingling with her.

Hanging with good friend Bruce Wandmayer

Hanging with good friend Bruce Wandmayer

With Carla and Ione in Santa Rosa, CA

With Carla and Ione in Santa Rosa, CA

And this trip also introduced me to a wonderful host and sweet person
in Carla Lockwood. Known as Christmas Carla because she was born on Christmas Day, she picked me up and took me for three days to stay at her place and then took me up to Red Bluff. We traveled parts of San Francisco and then parts of north-central California on our way and enjoyed sightseeing and mixing and mingling with each other along the way. She and her good friend Ione Snyder, whom I have known for a number of years, were great hosts and so kind to me. I won’t soon forget the happiness and the good times we spent together during my time in California in May.

Carla and Ione give old Sumoflam a kiss at Woodflock 2015

Carla and Ione give old Sumoflam a kiss at Woodflock 2015

At that time I also got to spend time and meet with a number of other people. The Flamingoheads, as they are known, are a great group of people. I am thankful to be associated with them. Here are just a few pictures of me with some of my Flamingohead family.

With Jacque and James Ferreira

With Jacque and James Ferreira

Good friend and official "teaser of Sumoflam" Kathy Aspinwall

Good friend and official “teaser of Sumoflam” Kathy Aspinwall

Men with Hats...my pal from Cal...Ed Townsend

Men with Hats…my pal from Cal…Ed Townsend

And we did dance because we wanted to...with MATCHING HATS!

And we did dance because we wanted to…with MATCHING HATS!

Can't forget Uncle Fred...one of my good California friends. He took me back to the airport and we had a fabulous time!

Can’t forget Uncle Fred…one of my good California friends. He took me back to the airport and we had a fabulous time!

Woodflock

Woodflock 2015

With Johnny Mac at Sundance Resort in Utah

With Johnny Mac at Sundance Resort in Utah

Through my association with Rob Roy, as I noted above, I was able to go to Utah and participate in one of his training sessions as a photographer. That program was interesting in and of itself, but along the way I got to spend some time both in Lexington and in Utah with John MacLaren, another former Navy Seal. Johnny Mac, as he is known to many of his close friends, has been a trainer to the stars and to many others. My first meeting with him was in Lexington as I picked him up at the airport when he arrived in June for the Great
American Fitness Challenge. His first words to me were “are you from Utah or Idaho?” That was a shocker, but he was able to pick up on the slight accent that I had from Utah, as he too, was a graduate of high school in Utah. He has an intensity about him, but also a very peaceful and pleasant demeanor. It was good to meet an individual like him. Not all military or former military people are hard-nosed.

With high school friend Jonathan Jensen at Sundance

With high school friend Jonathan Jensen at Sundance

With high school friend Russ Graves in Murray, UT

With high school friend Russ Graves in Murray, UT

During my trip to Utah, I was honored and excited to spend a littlebit of time with my very close high school friends Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. I wrote a blog post in detail about that visit, but just want to show them again here. Both of them had a profound impact on my life in the direction my life took after high school.I owe them a great deal in terms of setting my life in the right direction. I will eternally be indebted to these two great men, both of them strong members of the LDS Church and great leaders. Yet, also very good friends.

Then there are the people that you meet in every day life. A couple of these people have become good acquaintances. And I want to point them out in this post because in their own ways they too have had an impact on my life just as the examples they set.

schmoozing with my pal Joe Seebold at Valvoline

Schmoozing with my pal Joe Seebold at Valvoline

 

One of these is Joe Seebold. Joe,is a good-natured car repairman. The manager of an oil change place, I have been associated with him for a few years. But it’s always great to speak to him about things other than car repair. And, over the last couple of years Joe and I have become good friends. Not through religion, not through common beliefs. But because we’re people and we enjoy each others company and that’s what is important.

 

Sumoflam with Asian Bistro's JJ Chen

Sumoflam with Asian Bistro’s JJ Chen

 

This past year, Julianne and I begin frequenting a restaurant near our house. The Asian Bistro Express is a great little Chinese place. The gal that runs the place with her husband is JJ Chen and as we have frequented the eatery, we have become friends with her as well. It’s nice to speak with them about things other than their food or their restaurant. Nice to learn about where they’re from, and what they do, what their goals are, about their children, etc. (They have a cute little girl in 4th or 5th grade). We all share a common trait in this world and that is we live life.

 

Visiting Al Luminum and his Airstream on a 2015 visit to Lexington.

Visiting Al Luminum and his Airstream on a 2015 visit to Lexington.

Over the last couple of years I have become Facebook friends with folks near and far, many whom I have not met in person.  But, occasionally there is the unique opportunity to meet some of them.  One of these goes by the name Al Luminum (not his real name).  Al is an Airstream Gypsy with his family.  They travel the country in their Airstream and live off of a rental property income and who knows what else.  In the winter you can find him and his family staying in the quiet of the desert and in the summers they may be up north in any of dozens of locales.  On one occasion they pulled into Lexington, where they stayed in a church parking lot. He gave me a ping in Facebook and I went over and finally met them all in person.  What a delightful family!

I left the visit with envy as they travel freely in this beautiful country…something that I wish I could do full time!

Alex and his Ukranian friends at Fat Smitty's

Alex and his Ukranian friends at Fat Smitty’s

On another occasion I was with the family in Washington and we ventured into a unique eatery called Fat Smitty’s (see my blog post about this quirky place), near Port Townsend.  I was in there taking photos and there were three Russians (Ukranians actually) enjoying a wonderful Fat Smitty burger. One of them, named Alex, noted, “You must be famous,” to which I replied, “In my own mind!”  I sat down with them and asked if I could do a selfie with them.  Turns out these guys were from Ukraine and were in the area working.  Alex and his friends were great!  You never know who you can meet in this wide world.

Meeting Nelson Campbell, Director of Plant Pure Nation

Meeting Nelson Campbell, Director of Plant Pure Nation

Julianne and I meet with acclaimed author Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Julianne and I meet with acclaimed author Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Then, as many of you may know, Julianne and I have strived to change to a healthier eating lifestyle.  We have moved predominantly to a Whole Food Plant-Based regimen.  She has been more perfect at it than I, but I too am trying!  As a result of this effort we had a unique opportunity to go to an advance screening of the Documentary Movie called “Plant Pure Nation” back in April (see my review of the movie) Nelson Campbell, son of the acclaimed T. Colin Campbell (author of “The China Study“) was there. We met Dr. T. Colin Campbell as well, along with the Producer John Corry, who also happened to produce another famed documentary called “Forks Over Knives.”

Meeting joe Cross, of 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" fame in Louisville

Meeting Joe Cross, of  “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” fame in Louisville

Along the same lines, a few weeks later, we met another famed Whole Foods Plant Based proponent in Joe Cross, who produced the movie “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and has also authored a number of books on whole fruit/veggie juicing. (See my post about this)  We picked up his new book, which has some great inspirational stories that helped me out.  His talk was great and he was very understanding of the plight of big people.

I consider myself blessed to meet people like Nelson Campbell and Joe Cross, both of whom are on a mission to get people to eat healthier and live better, happier and healthful lives.  Yes, they may be famous in their realms, but it is not the fame that they desire as much as the ability to help others.

Sumoflam with Santa Claus in Santa Claus, IN

Sumoflam with Santa Claus in Santa Claus, IN

Speaking of famous folks, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with one Jolly old elf in the small town of Santa Claus, IN just a week before Christmas.  The town was named after this guy and he looked like the REAL one….hmmm… I wonder.  He did know some stuff about me and about my grandkids….

Yes, he did tell me I was nice (and NOT naughty like some in my family may have tried to lead others to believe!)

Meeting with Solar Guru john Schaeffer

Meeting with Solar Guru john Schaeffer

While in California on the road with Carla (mentioned above), we stopped at Real Goods Solar in Hopland, CA. Quite the quirky place (see my post about it), it was perfect for the travel writer in me.  While there I had the chance meeting of the founder and proprietor John Schaeffer. He was also the author of the Solar Living Sourcebook, a book I had procured back in1990 while working with Asahi Solar in Japan. It was a great opportunity to meet one of the founders of solar energy in the US.  I left with a smile, a great photo and a new, signed copy, of his book.

Julianne and I with Tregoney on the Wicked set in Louisville

Julianne and I with Tregoney on the Wicked set in Louisville

 

In November we had the great chance to go to Louisville and attend the Broadway traveling musical “Wicked” (see my post and review).  It was especially meaningful since Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd was a performer in this musical.  As a result, we were also afforded the opportunity to go backstage and see the props and learn more about the entire production.  Tregoney also came over to our house on Thanksgiving and the three of us went out to a wonderful catered dinner.

 

Antsy and Sumoflam at the SOLD OUT show in the intimate Downtowne Listening Room in Cincinnati

Antsy and Sumoflam at the SOLD OUT show in the intimate Downtowne Listening Room in Cincinnati in April 2015

Of course, I have to note my good friend Antsy McClain.  A week doesn’t go by when we are not talking.  He is like a brother to me in so many ways.  It is wonderful to have a close friend who is also a musician, story teller, amazing artist.  We have been friends since our first meeting in 1992 at an auto plant in Kentucky. Much has happened to both of us since that time.  I am grateful for friends like Antsy McClain!

I have seen him go from a newbie in the business into a world traveling musician.  I have met many wonderful musicians who have since become friends, as a result of my friendship with Antsy.  I have seen his family grow as well.  Accomplished musicians and artists in their own right.

IN MEMORIUM 2015

MemoriumAs I get older there are those that pass on before me. Seems like the older I get the more I am seeing of my friends and acquaintances making the journey home. The year 2015 was no different as I lost a dear brother in law, a couple of friends and a couple of Facebook friends who I had become well-acquainted with but never got to meet in person.  I want to remember these folks as well.  They too had an influence in my life, if even minimal.

Ultimately, our lives are canvasses and every individual we meet adds their little piece of color to our complex life portrait.  I am grateful for the relationships as they all enrich my life.

Jamie Showkeir - August 16, 1952 - August 16, 2015

Jamie Showkeir – August 16, 1952 – August 16, 2015

Jamie Showkeir was my brother-in-law and mentor and was a down to earth solidly wonderful individual.  I wrote about him on his passing (see my post). He passed away after a year long struggle with the devastating disease known as ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  He knew from the outset that his days were numbered.  But he chose to deal with it rather than to let it deal with him. 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 his wife Maren, my wife’s sister, had authored two books).  I miss Jamie.

Dan "Photoman" Smith - Aug. 5, 1959 - June 16, 2015

Dan “Photoman” Smith – Aug. 5, 1959 – June 16, 2015

I first met Dan online through Facebook around 2010.  We shared many common interests, especially our love of photography in the Lexington area.  I had a couple of opportunities to finally meet him.  The first time we met was at Jacobson Lake, a favorite photographic stomping grounds for both of us.  He was out shooting a sunrise and I walked up and said “Hey Photoman!” and surprised him.  He knew me because of my Facebook photos. From then we met for breakfast a couple of times.   Dan was one of those who ended up losing a job and worked at a call center.  Photography and writing were his passions. He was a libertarian at heart. I am glad to have had the pleasure of his association over the years.  Dan collapsed into a coma in mid 2015 and never fully recovered. I am sure he is enjoying the heavenly sunrises.

Phil J. Norris - Dec. 3, 1962 - Dec. 29, 2015

Phil J. Norris – Dec. 3, 1962 – Dec. 29, 2015

I never got to meet Phil in person, but we had become Facebook friends back in 2013.  He was an avid Antsy McClain fan and friended me through the Flamingohead Family group. Our last communication was on my birthday, Oct. 4, in 2015.  We both lamented that we had not yet had the opportunity to get together.  He was in Idaho and I was in Kentucky.  We had chatted via Facebook Messenger weekly with our many common interests of family, LDS Church (he had served an LDS mission but later went inactive), Antsy McClain, Aussie musician Pauly Zarb (another good friend of mine) and grandkidz. Like my friend Dan, Phil went into a sudden coma in December, slipped out of it for a day or two and then back into it  He succumbed on Dec. 29 to the dismay of many of his family, Facebook friends and Flamingohead cousins.  I will miss our nice chats.

 

 

Countdown 365: #310 – Wicked, The Musical

(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.)

Ticket and Program for Wicked

Ticket and Program for Wicked

Over the Thanksgiving weekend Julianne and I, along with Marissa and Adam, were blessed with the opportunity to go to Louisville and enjoy the spectacle of the traveling Broadway performance of “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” which included parts performed by Julianne’s cousin Tregoney Shepherd.

I count this as one of my blessings as it is EXTREMELY rare for us to go to a Broadway production of this caliber…even if it is a National Tour production of one.  Tickets are pricey and getting there, etc., can be a hassle.

But we had to go to this one.  First of all, Julianne’s cousin was in it.  Tregoney is a Broadway actress and performer, an acting and voice coach and an all around fun person!

Julianne and I with Tregoney Shepherd on the Wicked stage after the performance

Julianne and I with Tregoney Shepherd on the Wicked stage after the performance

Tregoney Shepherd as Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables

Tregoney Shepherd as Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables

We were blessed to see her a few years ago when she came to Louisville in the National Tour of “Les Miserables,” where she played Madame Thenardier.  That too was an amazing performance.

More recently Tregoney was in the National Tour of “Mary Poppins” and has been in “Wicked” for the past few months.

(L to R) Blake Segal, Tregoney Shepherd, Rachel Wallace, Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst in “Mary Poppins” Photo: Deen Van Meer

(L to R) Blake Segal, Tregoney Shepherd, Rachel Wallace, Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst in “Mary Poppins”
Photo: Deen Van Meer

Another photo of Tregoney in Les Miz (photo courtesy tregoneyshepherd.com)

Another photo of Tregoney in Les Miz (photo courtesy tregoneyshepherd.com)

One of the Wicked trucks that carries all of the stage equipment

One of the Wicked trucks that carries all of the stage equipment

This post is not as much about Tregoney (though she DOES deserve one of her own…she is a real gem honestly), as it is about the AMAZING musical “Wicked.”

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. It is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, an alternative telling of the witches from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like most people my age, I grew up with this movie and have seen it dozens of times.

A stage scene from Wicked of the witches Glinda and

A stage scene from Wicked of the witches Glinda and Elphaba (photo from Louisville Courier-Journal)

The musical is told from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz; its plot begins before and continues after Dorothy’s arrival in Oz from Kansas and includes several references to the 1939 film and Baum’s novel. Wicked tells the story of two unlikely friends, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda, who struggle through opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, reactions to the Wizard’s corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba’s public fall from grace.

Wicked Stage Scene (photo: Stock Promo photo from Kentucky Center)

Wicked Stage Scene (photo: Stock Promo photo from Kentucky Center)

Seting at Wicked...5th row, with Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Seting at Wicked…5th row, with Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Like any Broadway production, the stage is spectacular and the costumes are phenomenal.  And, of course, the acting and singing are as good as it comes.  Thanks to Tregoney, we were able to land some great seats…5th row. We could almost touch the actors on stage.

The house was packed on this Saturday matinee version of the performance. The venue is a great place to watch a huge production like this…no matter where you sat.  But our seats were fantastic.

Sumoflam with the stage behind him... a giant dragon that has glowing red eyes and breathes smoke. The curtain is a map of Oz and the Emerald City.

Sumoflam with the stage behind him… a giant dragon that has glowing red eyes and breathes smoke. The curtain is a map of Oz and the Emerald City.

Scene from Wicked...Elphaba above the cast. Amazing

Scene from Wicked…Elphaba above the cast. Amazing (photo from a promo site about Wicked)

Everything about the musical really made it worth the trip and the price of the tickets. The props were very realistic.  One of the walls in one of the scenes was covered with vines.  It all looked so real (and, after our private backstage tour with Tregoney, we could see that they WERE real!!).  The show had some great scenes, but one of my favorites was of Elphaba flying high above the cast.  The lighting was like a burst of light coming from her.  It was classic!  Fortunately, I found a photo on the web from a promotional site that shows the scene (photos were strictly forbidden during the performance and even on the back stage tour).

Julianne and David in front of the Wizard of Oz prop from Wicked. This is the only prop allowed for photos.

Julianne and David in front of the Wizard of Oz prop from Wicked. This is the only prop allowed for photos.

After the performance, we were fortunate to get a backstage tour with Tregoney.  Honestly, this was almost as amazing as the performance.  We didn’t get to meet any of the actors, but we did get a unique look at all of the props, the stage floor and a close up look-see-feel of the costumes, all of which were obviously handmade and intricate. As noted, photos were not allowed.  Everything…the props, the costumes and even the makeup is copyrighted.

Tregoney explained that the green make-up used on Elphaba is all trademarked.  She may not leave the stage area with that make up on and close up photos of her are not allowed.

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis Photo by Joan Marcus 2015

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis
Photo by Joan Marcus 2015

We learned how the actors make their quick changes for scenes.  We saw the intricate and custom designed stage flooring that is carried from venue to venue.  It contains holes for the smoke and vents for fans to blow wind out for flowing hair and robes.

Glinda’s dress, as seen on the right, actually has a carabiner sewn into it to keep her attached to the floating props. These costumes are all very heavy and appear to be not too comfortable.  But, they are truly elaborate.  Seen up close you can see that no expense was spared.  The audience doesn’t see the complexity, but up close it is really amazing (sorry, running out of adjectives).

Stage shot with Tregoney, Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Stage shot with Tregoney, Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Overall, this was a wonderful experience for us and we are so appreciative of Tregoney who took the time to visit us on Thanksgiving Day and then to bless us with a feast for our eyes in Louisville.

Opportunities to enjoy the arts are a blessing.  The creativity of people is inspiring whether it be musicians, writers, actors or even set and costume designers.

I count it a blessing to be able to participate in opportunities like this.

And a final word…Wicked ends in Louisville on December 6.  But it will be in St. Louis and Kansas City in the near future.  There will be shows in California, Dallas and Houston coming later in 2016 as well.

Countdown 365: #324 – Grandchildren Baptisms

GrampzJos

Grampz and Joselyn at her baptism on November 14

Today is a glorious day.  One of my grandchildren has made the decision to get baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Joselyn Love Noe, my 4th grandchild, will become the third grandchild to be baptized into the church.

The LDS Church doctrine has children baptized at the age of 8.

“And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands (D&C 68:27)”

GrampzCharles

Grampz, Grammy and Charles at his baptism in Washington on August 1

Earlier this year my wife and I went to Washington to visit my oldest daughter Amaree and her family.  The main reason for the trip was the baptism of my grandson Charles Matthews, who was baptized on August 1 in Port Orchard.

This was a wonderful time and we got to spend a few days with the family traveling around Washington as well. You can read about all of those trips in my Less Beaten Paths travel blog, if interested.

I was baptized when I was 18 (in January 1975), in Murray, Utah after struggling to get approval from my parents. It was a conscious decision I personally made in my life and I am grateful to have done so.  My membership in the church has been a wonderful blessing to me (as I have noted in earlier posts on this blog). As a missionary in Japan from 1976-1978 I had the opportunity to teach and baptize many.

But there is no greater joy than to see your own posterity baptized.  All five of my children were baptized into the church, though a couple of them have strayed away. I love all of my children the same and there is a part of me that is glad that my children have the blessing to choose the direction of their own lives, even if it is disappointing to me.  I love them just the same.

Autumn and Grampz

Autumn and Grampz

At Joselyn’s baptism I was blessed to be accompanied by my sweet 10 year old granddaughter Autumn, the oldest of all of my grandchildren. She was dressed beautifully and was absolutely adorable.

She has not been brought up in the LDS Church and this was her first baptism experience.  She sat intently watching and listening.  I had my arm around her and she snuggled next to me. Who knows what was going through her mind. I was grateful that her mother Chelsea allowed her to attend.  Indeed, Chelsea would have been there as well had she not had to work.  The one thing about my family is that they support each other, even if it is something they may not necessarily agree with.  Our family motto – “The Family that Stays Together, Stays Together” – continues on into the next generation.  I was so glad that Autumn could be there to support her cousin.

I am grateful for the principle of baptism and count myself blessed to have children and grandchildren that have chosen to follow the Savior Jesus Christ and his teachings.