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.

 

Countdown 365: #325 – Feeling Lucky, Feeling Blessed

FranceLogoToday is Friday the 13th.  Friday the 13th is considered to be the unluckiest day in the Gregorian Calendar. For many people, it is a day to take caution, stay indoors, avoid black cats, ladders and mirrors, and reach out for their good luck charms for protection.  Not a good day if you suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.

And today is the third Friday the 13th to occur in 2015, only one of 11 times that there will be three in one year during the 21st Century.  It happened in 2009, then this year and will not occur again until 2026 and then 2037.

ParisPeaceFor me, today is a special extra Friday the 13th as I count myself blessed and fortunate. It was a day of terror in Paris, France as Muslim extremists hit a number of locations and killed many innocent citizens in an instant. Heart-wrenching.

The major killings took place at a rock concert in a theatre in Paris.  Over 100 were killed.  The performing band members got out alive, but the person working their merch table didn’t.  I have worked the merch tables many times for Antsy McClain shows.  Indeed, if a shooting occurs, you are probably first in line.

My heart goes out to all of the people whose lives have been impacted.  Those who lost loved ones and those who will suffer injuries.  And especially those who survived the attacks and may feel guilt as a survivor.

I count myself blessed and lucky to arise and partake of another day of life.

BeirutSupportBut, Paris is not the only city suffering.  Just the day before, Thursday the 12th, 43 people were killed in Beirut while going about their normal evening business after a double suicide bombing attack took place in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut, a bustling urban area.

They had no idea.  They were working, drinking coffee at a coffee stand, chopping vegetables in a market.

Lives were shattered.  Buildings and property were destroyed.

And again, on this Friday the 13th, I count myself lucky and blessed to be alive.

9-11-statue-of-liberty-towersThe dates 11/12/15 and 11/13/15 will mean much to many people.  Many Americans look back at 9/11/2001.  Indeed, we just call it Nine-Eleven and all know what it means.  That day saw 2,996 people lose their lives and trillions of dollars of damage as buildings were destroyed.  I watched in horror on television as the two Twin Towers collapsed in only 1 hour and 42 minutes.  Just a couple of years earlier, I had been on top of one of those towers.  I am still awestruck at how quickly they fell.

At that time I was grateful to be alive and in a relatively safe place called Lexington, Kentucky.

But, on this Friday the 13th, I count myself and blessed to be alive.  Because these acts of violence can occur anywhere, at anytime.  We never know when our innocent lives will be shattered while going about our own business.  Like 9/11 or 11/12 or 11/13, there are many other dates that many people in this world memorialize.  Many innocent lives were taken without warning.  Many lives were shattered.  And, on this Friday the 13th I want to at least note some of them from around the world, because, like 9/11, these dates are just as significant to the people affected.

  • 1/7/15 – Charlie Hebdo Offices in Paris attacked, 11 killed
  • 7/20/12 – Movie theater shooting in Denver, 12 killed
  • 4/20/99 – Columbine High School shooting, 12 killed
  • 12/14/12 – Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, CT, 26 killed
  • 10/10/15 – Ankara, Turkey bombings, 102 killed, 400 injured
  • 4/19/95 – Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombed, 168 killed
  • 8/1/66 – University of Texas-Austin shooting, 17 killed
  • 3/21/05 – Red Lake Senior High, Red Lake, MN shooting, 10 killed
  • 4/16/07 – Virginia Tech shooting, 33 killed, 25 injured
  • 2/14/08 – Northern Illinois University shooting in DeKalb, IL, 6 killed
  • 10/24/14 – Marysville, Washington shooting at a school, 5 killed
  • 10/1/15 – Umpqua Community College Shooting in Roseburg, OR, 10 killed
  • 6/17/15 – Charleston, SC Church Shooting, 9 killed
  • 7/22/11 – Oslo, Norway bombings, 73 killed
  • 4/18/83 – US Embassy in Beirut bombed, 63 killed
  • 10/23/83 – Beirut bombings, 307 killed
  • 12/21/88 – Lockerbie Pan Am 103 aircraft bombing in Scotland, 270 killed
  • 8/7/98 – US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya bombed, 223 killed, 4000 inured

Alive2And the list of dates goes on and on and on.  One minute you are minding your own business and the next you could be dead from a random act of violence.  Of course, there are all of the other random shootings at gas stations, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, schools, churches and businesses.

Today I am alive.  I am grateful for this blessing each day.  In the meantime, my prayers go out to all who have lost loved ones or have suffered from random acts of violence around the world.  It is a lucky Friday the 13th for me.  But for many, it is not.

Countdown 365: #348 – Seeing Colors

Leaves2We are in the midst of the Autumn season, which means an extravaganza of colors on trees, blazing sunrises and sunsets and lovely watercolor skies. We may look at this spectacular array of color with wonder and awe, but often we forget how amazing it is.

First of all, there are the eyes that see the colors.  This little miracle pair of things in our head are amazing. The eyes and the brain together translate light into color. Light receptors within the eye transmits messages to the brain, which produces the familiar sensations of color. Notice, it is a “sensation.”

The Eye's are a Miracle

The Eye’s are a Miracle

Colors are a reflection

Colors are a reflection

Science tells us that color is not inherent in objects.Actually, the surface of an object reflects some colors and absorbs all the others. Our eyes and brain only perceive the reflected colors. Thus, red is not “in” an apple. The surface of the apple is reflecting the wavelengths we see as red and absorbing all the rest. An object appears white when it reflects all wavelengths and black when it absorbs them all.

Then there is the science of rods and cones, the light-sensitive cells that cover the retina of the eye. These receptors process the light into nerve impulses and pass them along to the cortex of the brain via the optic nerve. The way these work is also amazing. And I am grateful for the millions of rods and cones in my eyes that help me to see the amazing spectrum of rich colors this world has to offer.

We get used to sight.  It becomes the norm. As a result, we overlook so many of the “mundane” things that are so colorful.  I find joy in noticing the rich colors of the regular things in life.  Here are a few:

Geese in Flight - notice the light reflecting on the wings

Geese in Flight – notice the light reflecting on the wings

All sorts of colors on one bush

All sorts of colors on one bush

A Water Color Sky

A Water Color Sky

A simple salad can be full of color

A simple salad can be full of color

Colorful sky at sunset

Colorful sky at sunrise over Lexington, KY

The amazing colors of a lily blossom

The amazing colors of a lily blossom

Flowers and raindrops

Flowers and raindrops

Yes, vision is a BIG blessing and the variety of colors our eyes and minds enjoy make life onderful

 

 

Countdown 365: #354 – A Free Dinner at Chuy’s

(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.)

ChuysNachoTIt is not everyday that you can be “counting your blessings” and an unexpected one happens right before your eyes.  Tonight was one of those nights, so I am counting this one in as an unplanned blessing.

Julianne and I usually try to get a date night in once a week. Due to our schedules, it is usually going somewhere for dinner.  Since we are striving to eat whole foods, lots veggies and such, we always seek the places that serve vegetarian or even vegan choices.  Fortunately, Chuy’s in Lexington is very accommodating this way.

Hatch Green Salsa from Chuy's

Hatch Green Salsa from Chuy’s

I am a lover of Chuy’s because they have awesome Hatch Green Chile Salsa.  I can devour that stuff like candy…and I do.  Some of the waiters and waitresses know this and bring me out my 4-5 bowls of the stuff!  Honestly, I could eat with a spoon and skip the fattening chips! (And then there is the fresh guacamole…another treat)

We also like Chuy’s because we can order typical items and ask for no cheese or meat and additional veggies.  Tonight was one of those nights.  Thursday is “Big Daddy Enchilada” night, which is a chicken enchilada stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and cheese.  We just skip the chicken and cheese.  Kind of a special veggie enchilada, which they also serve.  Julianne and I both love them.

Chuy's Veggie Enchiladas

Chuy’s Veggie Enchiladas

Chuy's is Fun and Tasty

Chuy’s is Fun and Tasty

Well, tonight we ordered the “Meat/Cheese” free Big Daddy Enchiladas. The wait was a bit longer than normal, but Julianne and I were busy talking about the events of the day and things from work, etc.  Then, without notice, one of the managers came over and apologized profusely for our meal coming so slow. He wanted to verify our order and then went back to “get it right.”  Shortly thereafter we got our meal.  Allen, the Asst. Manager, apologized again and then said “tonight’s dinner is on me.”  We said that was not necessary, but he insisted. (Remember, we never once complained or even intimated any unhappiness).  The other Assistant Manager was over soon checking to make sure we were happy with the meal, noted that dinner was on the restaurant due to the inconvenience and then gave us a card for another meal on the next visit.  We were stunned!!

Chuy's Veggie Burrito slathered in Hatch Green Salsa - yes it is yummy

Chuy’s Veggie Burrito slathered in Hatch Green Salsa – yes it is yummy

chuys-neon-signEven after all of this, we were fine with paying for our meal, but they insisted.  THAT, my friends, is EXCELLENT and CARING customer service.  We are already good customers, frequent visitors and count this restaurant as one of our favorite dining establishments. This time they went far and beyond any expectation and it needs to be noted.

And I count it as a blessing out of nowhere. My wife leaves on a trip out of town for a week and so this was our last opportunity for a date night.  It was an excellent one!!

Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy after a good blessing

This place made us both smile tonight and count our blessings.  We left a tip and left with a smile.  Tomorrow, I am calling Chuy’s 800 Customer Service number to let them know how great the service is there.  (It was not the first time they have made sure we were happy, but this particular unilaterally initiated effort was a first for me at ANY dining establishment EVER!)

Count your blessings folks…you will be surprised!

Countdown 365: #356 – The Simple Things – Part 1

Sometimes, we overlook the simple things in life.  Here are a few that I count as blessings…. (all photography by David Kravetz/Sumoflam Productions):

Tranquil Snowscapes

Tranquil Snowscapes

Birds in Graceful Flight

Birds in Graceful Flight

My wife running her fingers through my hair

My wife running her fingers through my hair

Mountain Majesties

Mountain Majesties

The Curiosity of Children

The Curiosity of Children

Morning sunrises

Morning sunrises

Spring FLowers

Spring Flowers

Homemade S'mores

Homemade S’mores

The curious art of nature

The curious art of nature

A robin egg

A robin egg

A baby yawn

A baby yawn

Curious wildlife

Curious wildlife

Nature's variety

Nature’s variety

Grandchildren at play

Grandchildren at play

A bee at work

A bee at work

Nature's Art in flowers

Nature’s Art in flowers

A grandchild dancing

A grandchild dancing (photo by Marissa Noe)

Young goslings in the morning sun

Young goslings in the morning sun

Morning fog on an autumn day

Morning fog on an autumn day

Sunbeams in the evening

Sunbeams in the evening

 

Countdown 365: #361- Growing Up in the Age of Technology

(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.)

Check out the 70s threads

Check out the 70s threads

I am a child of the late 50s, 60s and 70s (I know, its obvious right?).  I grew up in my youth with black and white TV (with three channels – ABC, NBC and CBS) and we needed “rabbit ears” on the TV or an antenna on the house for reception, 45 RPM records and players, telephones with dials on them (also called rotary phones), cars with roll down windows (not electric) and a bright headlamp switch on the floor, non-electric typewriters and Kodak Brownie cameras that used flashbulbs, to name a few of the things. We enjoyed listening to our Top 40 hits on wonderful new pocket sized transistor radios…AM only. There was no such thing as a Drive-thru restaurant.

 

Black and White TV

Black and White TV

Rabbit Ears antenna

Rabbit Ears antenna

Pocket Transistor Radio and earphone

Pocket Transistor Radio and earphone

Kodak Brownie

Kodak Brownie

An red rotary phone from the 1960's or 1970's.

A red rotary phone from the 1960s

A car window handle from the 1960s

A car window handle from the 1960s

Old Type Writer

Old Type Writer

45 RPM record player

45 RPM record player

Color TV Console

Color TV Console

 

Then life got exciting as I grew a bit older…technology was in action! We got a color TV Console with a STEREO record player. We got a station wagon with air conditioning and electric window openers! Kodak came out with Instamatic cameras – even little portable ones (which I actually used when I was on my LDS mission in Japan)!

 

A Ford Country Squire similar to the one we had (see the photo above with me in it)

A Ford Country Squire similar to the one we had (see the photo above with me in it)

Kodak Instamatic portable camera

Kodak Instamatic portable camera with 110mm film

Kodak Instamatic w/ 126mm film and a flashcube

Kodak Instamatic w/ 126mm film and a flashcube

Polaroid SX-70 Camera

Polaroid SX-70 Camera

With the late 1960s we saw the birth of the 8 track tape…no longer did we have to turn our records over. And we could listen to our music in the car instead of the radio. And the Polaroid SX-70 Camera was to die for! Instant high quality photos. Soon the 8 track was being replaced by cassette tapes that cold be plugged into portable units and eventually, by the early 1980s we could listen to them in stereo on a Sony Walkman.  We had wonderful FM radio stations that played full album sides in a luscious sound. And the IBM Selectric was the thing to write papers on instead of a pen and paper.

8 Track Tape version of Pink Floyd

8 Track Tape version of Pink Floyd’s “Animals

An 8 track player in Car

An 8 track player in Car

Folding 8 track player combo

Folding 8 track player combo

IBM Selectric

IBM Selectric

Computer Punch Card

Computer Punch Card

When I first registered for college computers were in use…by the schools.  We would fill out computer punch cards.  It was so cool to see technology in action.  My first two years of college saw the advent of a typewriter with memory and a built in eraser.  I could type and go back a few lines to erase if I needed to.

 

The good old floppy disk

The good old floppy disk

By the time I was in my 3rd year of college we had connectivity to the mainframe and could write our papers on a computer using Wordstar and storing them on a floppy disk. Color TVs were everywhere and rarely would we see a black and white TV.  And, I forgot to mention that we had video tapes to both watch movies or even record our own. Typewriters were still around but they too were fading away.  The 8 track tape was vintage but no longer available in stores.

When I began my Master’s program at Arizona State University in the mid-1980s we now had portable PCs to use.  Still no such thing as email.  I had a part time job with a Real Estate Auctioneer and he had a brand new cell phone that looked like and felt heavy as a brick. But I could call my wife while I was driving…so cool!  And I also worked at a call center for pagers.  People from all over the country would call in and leave messages that we would type in on pagers.

Taking a Selfie with iPhone in San Francisco in 2015

Taking a Selfie with iPhone in San Francisco in 2015

Back then I was really grateful for technology.  But, little did I know that almost everything would be on my iPhone…my 8 track player is now an music player (and can store hundreds of songs that can shuffle), my black and white TV is now a streaming device for my satellite TV at home, my typewriter is a voice activated writer with a name (Siri).  I don’t need floppies.  My device at 64 GB has more memory than the entire mainframe had when I was in college.  Don’t need a camera either.  I can now take real selfies, thank you. I now talk to my grandkids over the internet while looking at them. My mobile device also measures my steps, keeps my calendar, lets me look at the internet, takes my heart rate, keeps my phone directory and contact list.  And don’t get me started on social media like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn…and yes, I not only use them, but they are what I do to make a living!!  I don’t even need a printed boarding pass at the airport or card or cash at Starbucks…all done on my mobile device.

iPhone 6s Plus - will have one of these soon

iPhone 6s Plus

Needless to say, everything I need is on my device…my LDS Scriptures (and a gazillion other things), my photo albums, my credit cards, my email, my contact list, my to do list, my calendar, I can check the weather wherever I am, my phone can tell WHERE I am and even automatically “geotag” my photos, Twitter posts, Instagram photos, etc.

Speaking of social media, I didn’t mention that I first started using something called America Online in 1993…had my own email address. HA! Email!! (It was eventually sumoman@aol.com)  Then they came out with something called the internet…I could connect my computer via my phone and wait and maybe find something useful on the World Wide Web over AOL after hearing a man say “You’ve Got Mail” (which by the way was voiced by a guy named Elwood Edwards – see article)

A flat screen TV

A flat screen TV

Oh, and nowadays we have these wonderful flat screen color TVs with internet access, 100s of channels of programming.

Ultimately, I am grateful to have grown up through the age of technology.  I have seen men walk on the moon.  I have personally produced 100s of live broadcasts from football fields and gyms across the country over the internet.

And what does the current present hold in terms of technology?  Cars that back themselves up, driverless cars, remote control smart houses where devices can be turned on and off through a mobile device from 1000s of miles away.

It has been an amazing 59 years and I am so grateful to have lived through it all and seen so much.  I can’t even begin to imagine what more I may see in the next few years.  Will the iPhone Mobile Device (or the Samsung Android Device) become an antiquated thing of the past that my children will be saying “I can remember when?”

Over the next year I may focus on few of the technologies that have had profound impact on my life.  But, the massively overwhelming changes – (records –> 8 track –> cassette –> CD –> DVD –> MP3 player –> Mobile devices  for instance) have made life amazing.  And certainly worth counting my blessings.

minority_report

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