A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 5: Gratitude for Friends

Most of us have friends. Some may be very close and others may just be casual acquaintances. Friends can almost feel like family at times. Over the years I’ve had some very close friends and friends that gave me a feeling of belonging.  But, one thing many say about me…  I have never met a stranger.

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico

The first friend I can recall was back in Albuquerque around 1964, when I was about eight years old. For about three years I was friends with a boy named Ricky Fetterer. I would walk down to his house every morning and watch cartoons (we liked watching The Mighty Hercules — even today I can recall the theme song).  After that was over, we would walk to school together, about a quarter-mile from his house. He certainly was, at that time, my best friend. One day they moved away to Kansas or Missouri or someplace like that. I was brokenhearted that I had lost my best friend. But, it was not soon thereafter that we too left Albuquerque and headed east to live in Richardson, Texas.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966 in Richardson, Texas

In Richardson, the neighborhood we lived in had a few kids and so I became friends with them and we played football and catch and things like that together, but I never really had the chance to grow close to them as we were only there for about a year and a half. I don’t even recall names or faces. I can recall playing football in the front yard and, as I try to look at the faces, all I see are blurs. In fact, over the years of my youth, I never did have another close friend like Ricky until I got to my senior year in high school.

Joe Kravetz during his Skaggs Days in Denver, CO around 1969

You see, my father worked for Skaggs Drug and we moved quite often. From 1968 through 1974 I attended three different elementary schools, two junior high schools and three different high schools.  During that period we lived in Dallas, Denver, Great Falls, Bozeman and finally Murray, Utah. Did I have some friends? Of course I did. I had friends from band, friends from other clubs, friends from extra-curricular activities. But none were really all that close. And, I think that besides the relative short times in each place, another part of the problem was that I always tried too hard to make friends. I was known for bragging and boasting in an effort to impress. That was one of the downsides of moving so much and thus it led to a lack of self-confidence.

 

Here I am working with some of the Bozeman Yearbook staff in 1973. Sheila, Melody, Sharon and Joyce. I was contacted by one of them a via Facebook a couple of years ago when they came across this photo.

I find it ironic that in this day of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, that I have been able to renew relationships with people from my old high school days. As we correspond and look at each other’s Facebook we have grown closer despite distance. And that has been an interesting and blessed part of life.  I am grateful for how something like Facebook can open up formerly closed doors.

Intramural Basketball team members at Bozeman Senior High back in 1973. I was the player/coach for one of the teams.  That’s me, third from left in back row.

A recent photo of my Bozeman friend Bud, who now lives in Colorado.

Just a few days ago I was contacted by a friend of mine from Bozeman Senior High School named Bud Herzog. That is one person who I still remember from the days of my junior year in high school. We caught up through Instagram and then eventually spoke on the phone for about an hour to reminisce about old times, old friends and acquaintances. It was refreshing to reestablish a long last relationship I had over 40 years ago.

 
As I noted above, I really forged a couple of close relationships with friends during my senior year in high school in Murray, Utah. I guess a number of things led to that opportunity to make those friends. First, having moved into a predominantly LDS/Mormon community, and having a desire to seek more about it because of a chance meeting I had in Bozeman just the previous summer.  A girl from Summit, NJ and her family were there and introduced me to the church and gave me a Book of Mormon. So, while I was registering for my senior year, I decided to take seminary class  (very common in large LDS communities such as Salt Lake City and Mesa, Arizona) and it was through seminary that I met some of the individuals that would eventually become my very close friends. And it turned out that they lived in the same neighborhood that I did. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the church’s boundaries, but, as it turns out, I lived in the same ward boundaries as these guys did. So, it seems that all of the chips fell into the same bowl to create the perfect opportunity to forge new friendships.
 
Obviously, I still had the problems talking about myself and had spoken highly of my previous years in Montana thus leading to my Murray-based nickname of “Monty Montana“ during my senior year of high school. There were a few guys who befriended me and made my life a little better, In fact, a lot better.  But, back then I was always “Monty” to them.
 

Jonathan Jensen as he looked in high school in 1974

I became close friends with five or six of these guys. Perhaps the most prominent of them were the two I grew closest to as friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russell Graves. We remain close friends even to this day. Both Jonathan and Russ lived just a couple of blocks from me and I spent a lot of time at their homes, getting to know their families, their parents, etc.  In fact, I was probably at their places more than my own house.  And as I drew near to joining the church, I also became very close to Jonathan‘s father Boyd Jensen, who at the time was the Bishop of the Murray 20th Ward. Bishop Jensen became almost like a second father to me and I so strongly desired to have a family like they had because, as I have noted in previous blog posts, my family situation was not the best.

 

Murray 20th Ward Young Adult basketball team in 1975 (Dale Simper is front left, next to me)

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort in Utah in 2016

Through my activities in the ward, specifically participating in their sports programs — softball, volleyball and basketball, I grew closer to many of these guys. And as a senior in high school, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Jonathan and Russell and a few of the other guys were all part of the basketball team and/or the football team. They were all popular in school. And here I was, a virtual nobody — a braggadocious “Monty Montana”, being embraced with friendship buy these guys. That truly helped open the door for other friendships. And for that I have always been very grateful because, honestly, I think that it saved my life.

 
 

Visiting Russ at his home in Murray, Utah in 2016

I spent a lot of time at Jonathan and Russ’s houses. And usually, it wasn’t just me and Russ or me and Jonathan, but all three of us and often times more of our friends including John Janssen, Dale Simper, and a few others.

Jonathan, Russ and also Dale, have remained close friends over the years. Every time I visit the Salt Lake area, we all get together and reminisce of good times and just spend time learning about each other‘s current lives… What is up with all of their children and my children, talk about grandchildren, talk about jobs. These guys have always been there for me and I am so grateful to them. In many respects, they’re almost like family to me.
 

Visiting my friends Russ, Jonathan and Dale in the summer of 2018 in Murray, Utah

Glen Krebs has been a very close friend. He officiated at one of my daughters’ weddings in this photo

Funny thing is that, through them, I was introduced to another Murray grad when I came to Kentucky.  Glen Krebs graduated the year before me and went on his LDS mission to Japan as well.  Most of my friends were either friends with him or knew him well.  When I first came to Kentucky for job interviews, I was able to stay at Glen’s house.  We have since become very close.  I have done work for him.  His wife and mine both went to the same high school in Mesa, Arizona and we even share the same wedding anniversary date of July 15!!  Like Jonathan and Russ, Glen has always been there to help get me through the difficult challenges of life when I needed him to.

 

Glen is also an avid supporter of my writing and books. I signed my most recent copy for him here. (We are also both UK Fans….)

Penny Strong as I knew her in 1976.

Finally, during the time I was trying to get into the church and then make decisions concerning my mission, I had become good friends with a wonderful young lady from Cottonwood High School named Penny Strong (now married with a different last name).  To this day, I can’t recall how we first met, but she was a godsend.  Ours was not a romantic relationship.  It was a true friendship and she was always there to talk and listen. She was like a “my age group” sister to me in the real sense.  Even to this day we stay in touch.  I am, even to this day, grateful for the strong positive influence Penny had in my life.

This is Penny in 2018. Like me, a happy grandparent and she still has that wonderful youthful look. So glad we are still friends.

This was the group I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) with in Feb. 1976. We all flew to Nagoya together. (Marc White is 4th from the left.  I am on the far right)

Busily engaged as a missionary in 1976

Eventually, we all go our separate ways. Jonathan, Russ, Dale, John and others all left for LDS missions to various parts of the world. I too ended up joining the church and serving an LDS mission. I followed in their footsteps and it was because they were such good examples in helping me to make good decisions.

 
Serving two years as a missionary and being together with a companion for a number of months, it is not usual that some of the missionary companions become good friends. I haven’t kept in contact with many of my former missionary companions or others. But I try to.  Interestingly, while I was in the Language Training Mission in February/March 1975, I had TWO companions and one of them was someone I knew from Murray. His name was Marc White. I did not know Marc very well during high school, but I do know that he was the quarterback of the football team and he was a great leader. During our missionary years, we became very close and he was kind of the cement that kept me strong during my weak times. Since our missions, I have been in touch with him a few times, but we have kind of lost touch over the years. But I’ll never forget how good Marc was in being a good friend and not just a missionary companion and leader to me.
 

One of my favorite mission companions was Lee Richan.  Sadly, he passed away in 2012

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

I have kept in touch with very few of those that I served missionary time with in Japan in the 1970s.  I am friends with a few on Facebook, and keep track of them that way, but we’ve all gone our separate ways. There was one, however, to whom I became very close friends with and had remained friends until he died a few years ago and that is Lee Richan. Much like me, Lee was a convert to the church. He had been a motorcycle rider for many years and had an interesting background. But, as missionary companions,  we achieved our goals together and we had a very fun time together. He was very good about remembering birthdays and would always call me or send me a note on my birthday. Over the years we would talk and communicate and when I could get to Utah,  we would visit with each other.  Sadly, Lee passed away on December 17, 2012.  He was 58.

Lee Richan as I knew him around 2010

Lee was not the first of my friends who had passed away at early age. But, his passing was certainly the most impactful that had experienced up to that time. There were two or three former missionaries and there were a couple of people from two of my different high schools that I had received notification that they had passed. It is always sad when someone you know passes away. But I was really brokenhearted when Lee passed away. His friendship was a valuable jewel to me.

Our first photo together ca. 1978

After my mission, I attended BYU and actually became roommates with Jonathan Jensen there. He and a couple of others had pitched in to buy a house.  There were a couple of others in the house I knew and then I became friends with the other roommates that were there with me. But, I was too engaged in trying to find a “eternal companion,“ to be very involved with my friends most of the time. And once I had found my sweetheart, Julianne, my friendships took a back burner a long time even though I did stay in contact.

 
Time came and went. Jobs came and went. Julianne and I ultimately moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to take us closer to her home yet keep us away from the dreaded heat. While in Flagstaff, I would attend college at Northern Arizona University and it was there today forged my next close friendship with now lifelong friend Charles Snow. Both of us had some Jewish of bringing in our family and we both were converts and we both had a lot of things in common. Eventually, Charles and I worked at the same places are a couple of times and that was always fun. As things would go, we moved onto Arizona State University and Charles and Michelle moved on in other directions. He currently lives in North Carolina and I have been able to visit him there.
 

Visiting with Charles Snow in North Carolina in 2016

Like me, Charles was always fond of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before like me, Charles was always find of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before.
 

Family in Japan in 1987

By 1987, my family eventually went to Japan for a few years.  We made a few friends in Japan, chiefly people that would help us through that experience. But nobody really became too close per se. Life was too busy with children and everything else going on.
 

With Ron (aka Antsy McClain)  ca. 1998

It wasn’t until we returned back from Japan in 1991 that I was blessed with a new lifelong friendship.  I could not locate work in Arizona and ultimately was hired as a contract Japanese interpreter for an auto parts plant in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1992.  I shared a table with another interpreter, named Ron Bell, who was originally from Ohio but was living in Kentucky at the time. Ron was always good for a joke. During his days in college at BYU, Ron was an editorial cartoonist and has also become quite the artist. We always talked of collaborating some day on something or other. There were evenings as well that I would go over to his place and listen to him play his guitar and sing his songs. He eventually left the company and went on to other things. But we stayed in touch as he lived locally in the Lexington area and we remained friends. He later formed a partnership with another guy and as musicians, they called themselves the “Trailer Park Troubadours.” As part of their schtick, Ron had given himself a pseudonym of Antsy McClain, which he still uses to this day.

Working with Antsy McClain

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015

The Trailer Park Troubadours eventually landed a recording contract and had a website that they were not happy with.  Ron, knowing that I could do web work, asked me to start managing his website, which I have done continuously for nearly 25 years.

 
Over those years, I have not just been a business associate doing his website. We have become very close friends and like brothers. We have seen each other struggle through life’s challenges. We have celebrated each other’s good times. Antsy (which is what I typically call him now) helped me to fulfill one of my dreams of being in a band and touring as I was able to participate with the group, not as a musician, but now with logistics and other things. I have always been his biggest cheerleader.
 

Visiting with Antsy McClain (and gawking at his grandchild pix) just before a show in Ohio in 2016

We have actually seen each other‘s children grow up and become parents.  Antsy has joined the grandparent club and now he and I both share the blessing of being grandparents. This has been a joyful relationship for me and hopefully for Ron. I am heartfully grateful for this long 25 year friendship.
 

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco in the early 2000s.  Getting to live a dream thanks to a good friend

 

Having BBQ with my old friend and fellow Troubs’ fan Michael Fisher in Georgetown, TX  We first met through Facebook

As I mentioned early on, Julianne has always said that I have never met a stranger. And that is true. I am always friendly and outgoing and social. That has helped me to develop other friendships over the years. Facebook has opened up doors for me to  develop virtual friendships that I would’ve never expected. I have become friends with people through Facebook and eventually, in some cases, have been able to visit them and get to know them better. Some of these friendships came as a result of Trailer Park Troubadours associations (such as Michael Fisher in photo). Others came as a result of my travel blogging. But in each case these are friendships that I value. There are others that I become friends with on Facebook they have yet to meet in person but we share things in common. To me, that has become a unique form of friendship making.

Hanging out with Texas travel blogger, author and photographer Tui Snider in Azle, TX whom I first met through Facebook.

One of these Facebook friends is Tui Snider. She is a Texas author whom I first met as a result of her book about offbeat attractions in Texas. She has authored a number of books since that time. We quickly became friends via Facebook and, as she lives very close to my sister in Texas, one trip I went out to visit with her and her husband Larry. We have hit it off and are now good friends. I relish her great success in writing, selling books and her numerous speaking engagements. Thankfully, she has been a great mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me to get my first two books out and on the market.

Bobby Cochran performing with Steppenwolf in 1975. I took this at the show.

One of the more interesting friendship stories is that of guitarist Bobby Cochran. I became friends with the former Steppenwolf guitarist when he joined and played lead guitar for Antsy for many years. I actually roomed with Bobby a couple of times on the road and we have taken many trips together and talked about everything…music, religion, politics.  Funny thing about Bobby is that I saw him perform with Steppenwolf in 1975 (see the photo).  Who’d have thought that 25 years later we would be friends and traveling together.

Enjoying time with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY around 2012

I also count myself fortunate to be friends with a number of other very talented musicians that I was introduced to through Antsy McClain.  These would include guitarists, multi-instrumentalists and others.

Hanging with friend Edgar Cruz…a guitarist from Oklahoma
Visiting with Anthony Snape, Nashville-based singer/songwriter from Australia.  I first met him in Bardstown and have kept in touch throughout the years.
With Bruce Wandmayer in 2016 at Woodflock.  Bruce has been with Antsy McClain as his saxophone and slide guitar player for over 20 years.
With a number of photographer friends watching for Bald Eagles at Taylorsville Lake in 2017
Watching for birds at Jacobson Park with Eddie Flinchum

Over the past 2 to 3 years, I have become very engaged in photography. It has always been a passion of mine, but with a nicer camera and a lovely park with a lake nearby, it has become a daily activity. Jacobson Park is nearby and has a large lake and lots of wildlife and lots of beauty. I visit almost daily and practice my art of photography there whether it be on birds, plants or nature such as sunrises and sunsets. Through this activity I’ve also developed friendships with other photographers and these too are unique and fun friendships. We talk about birds and we talk about other things. A couple of these photographers were Vietnam vets and we talk about their time in the service. I have learned about a couple of their families and their family life as they have about mine. It is nice to have these friends and some of them I see almost on a daily basis.

I see Jerome Keeler almost daily. This guy has an eagle eye for ALL birds

David Marler is another of my photographer friends who is out at Jacobson Park almost daily. Great guy and excellent photographer.
Next door neighbor Mike Lemaster

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to add some comment about a couple of my neighbors.  Mike Lemaster has been next door to us for nearly 20 years.  He and Lauren have become good friends and we have watched each other’s children grow up and watched grandkids come along.  Next door to him is another amazing neighbor in Steve Ward. He and his wife Chris are overly generous and always giving.

Both of these neighbors have always been gracious with their time and provide advice.  We have had cookouts together and other fun activities.  Mike keeps an immaculate yard and that is the only thing he does to make me feel bad!  As for Steve, there have been numerous instances where he has come over to help, without being asked. He is the kind of neighbor everybody dreams about having…except for us…it is a reality.

Neighbor Steve Ward. He has become a very good friend and is an amazing neighbor.

I have been blessed to have many many other friends from all walks of life.  Many of you who I count as my friends will read this and likely wonder where you are.  You are in my mind, but not enough space to add any more.  I am grateful for all of my many friends.  My life is truly rich and blessed with friendships.  Way more than I am truly worthy of.  Thanks to ALL of you!!

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 2: The Journey With My Wife

Happy Happy Happy

In my previous post, I wrote about my personal life journey. The following few posts will also include details of this journey, but will be more focused on those that have  accompanied me or that I accompanied on their portion of their own journey.

I would be remiss to not include the one person who has joined me on greatest part of my life journey, my sweet wife Julianne. So, for the purpose of this blog post, I want to express my gratitude and thanksgiving in the fact that she has been with me side-by-side on much of my life journey over the last 40 years. She’s been such an integral part of my journey, that my life would be so different without her.

Julianne Nov 2018

My sweet wife smiles with me on my 60th birthday celebration

I have written before in previous posts in this blog that we met in late 1978 and were married in the summer of 1979. That is where our journey really got started. On this journey together we have traveled to Japan, we have lived in numerous places, have had five children and 10 grandchildren.  It has been an amazing and rewarding journey together.

During this journey together, she has been strong and his been the foundation of our relationship. She has struggled and suffered through times where my employment took me away for long periods of time, but she has made it through with flying colors.
When you are on a journey with another person, it is always important to recognize that he or she is alongside with you and that it is not just “your“ journey alone at that stage. Things along the way that impact your life, will impact the life of the other one that has joined you.  Such has been the case my wife. Things that impacted her, also had an impact on me and vice versa.

All in the Family…family photo on my 60th Birthday

Julianne and David

A marriage to someone you love and cherish is wonderful, but it is not an easy thing. Some people are awestruck that we have been together for nearly 40 years. Personally, I am extremely grateful that she has been patient enough with me and my foibles and quirks and has stuck with me for 40 years. It gets a little more complicated after children leave because then we are each striving for some independence and wanting to go our own direction or pull the other one to go with us in that direction or the other.  There are no longer children at home dictating our activities and the direction of our life’s journey.

Wedding Photo – July 1979

Julianne and I began our journey together 40 years ago with many dreams and hopes. Some of those have come true and have been very fulfilling for both of us. There are others that seem to have escaped us and have gone far away out of our grasp. As well,  on a journey such as ours, there are always unexpected obstacles and ofttimes there are choices where we need to decide which fork of the road to take. Fortunately, in this our journey together, almost always we have found ways to come to agreement on which roads to take as well as the possible consequences for taking those roads and going in that direction rather than the other one.

David and Julianne in Japan 1990

David and Julianne at Corn Palace in South Dakota in 2012

Often times, hitting a crossroads, we never know what taking that road will lead us too. Sometimes there is no information other than to go this way or to go that way. But once determined, we pursued with fervor and did the best we can along that portion of our journey together. And, gratefully, Julianne has always been there by my side. Almost all of our journey together has been one that we determined we would take together whether good or bad. And I’m so thankful for

Julianne and David November 2018

her willingness to do so.

In recent years, we have trudged along on our journey together while, at times, pursuing separate paths that may have paralleled the wider path. We are generally going in the same direction, but we sometimes seem to take different paths to get there. There has been good with that and there has been the not so good as well. The course that Julianne is taking has brought her to better health. She looks marvelous and she has done amazingly well. I am so proud of her and astonished at her fortitude.  And also impressed with her youthful good looks. She is just as beautiful to me today as she was when I first met her nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps, even more beautiful, because I know her heart and I know her mind and I know her in so many deeper ways then I did when I first met her.

My Happy Place

As for me, the last few years of my journey have been challenging. I have not done as well in improving my health. It does sadden me. But I have also struggled in this treacherous economy to stay stable and gainfully employed. I’m grateful that I am able to do what I do now (which is a later blog post). But, when I hit those forks in the road on my portion of the journey, I have some times taken the more difficult and challenging roads, without knowing it.  But Julianne always supports me and helps me through!

David and Julianne – on our 25th anniversary

So, as we both pursue our own personal journeys on parallel paths in one direction, there are times where we are having our hands tugged apart. But, we have both strived to find ways to make sure that we do not lose that grip that we have with each other so that we can make it through the challenging times of being too singular individuals pursuing our own journeys while also trying to be a part of each others’ greater journey.

David and Julianne 1979 in Monument Valley

Love absolutely binds two individuals together strongly. I am grateful for the love that Julianne has had for me all these years and that she has accompanied me, and many times pulled me along or has been pulled along on this journey.

Every day of life with Julianne on this road is a blessing.

A Look Back at 2017

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

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

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

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

Visiting PrecisionHawk HQ in NC in early January 2017

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

Visiting Alabama with Landen, Lyla and Joselyn

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

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

Stopover in Louisiana

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

They do get much bigger!!

Being Chunky in Chunky, MS

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

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

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

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

Uncertain, Texas

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

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

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

Thousands of snow geese take to flight in central Arkansas

Hitting Missouri with the grandkidz

Having a super time with Superman in Metropolis

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

Story, Indiana

The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!

Nashville, Indiana

Welcome to Indianapolis!

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

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

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

 

Visiting Shenandoah National Park on Easter 2017

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

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

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

Easter sunrise from atop the Shenandoah Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

With Grandkidz at Mammoth Cave NP

Mammoth Cave

At the amazing waterfall in Letchworth State Park in New York

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

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

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

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

Making a splash with my granddaughter Autumn

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

Cleveland!

With my sisters Nicole and Tina and brother Joe in Cleveland

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

Traveling to Cincinnati with Sherry and Brian to go see Chicago

Chicago Live in 2017!

One of the many roller coasters at King’s Island

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

The whole family in prime form – July 2017!

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

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

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

With my cousin Donna in 2016.

Visiting with Charles Snow

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

Happy Happy Happy

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

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

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

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

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

Love the Sandhill Cranes!

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

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

Viewing the Solar Eclipse near Hopkinsville, KY

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

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

Thousands were in chairs to see the eclipse

This kid was focused!

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

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

Total Eclipse as seen through my Nikon

I got the Diamond!!

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

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

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

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

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

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

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

Heron with breakfast

One of my many bald eagle shots

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

 

Took this Bald Eagle shot near Cave Run Lake

My happy duckling

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

A Red-winged blackbird

This goldfinch apparently had a bad day

Great White Egret in Flight

An amazing bird – the Osprey

Then there are others….

Flying squirrel

Blue Heron with Breakfast

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

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

Hanging with Eddie Flinchum at the lake

Jerome Keeler

Charles Gough

Hallie Faurest

The gang at an eagle shoot meetup at Taylorsville Lake

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

Winter evening sky at Barren River Lake

Sandhill Cranes fly across the sky

Daughter Chelsea takes after her Dad, catching the sunset

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

Brilliant Sky over Barren River Lake

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

Choose Happy

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

End of 2017 — sunrise near Barren River Lake

Remembering Tom Petty

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

Tom Petty Oct 20, 1950 – Oct 2, 2017


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

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

Tom Petty


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

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

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

Traveling Wilburys


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

Running Down a Dream


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

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

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

Countdown 365: #233 – Arlene Bateman, Mother In Law

Arlene Shepherd ca. 1944

Arlene Shepherd ca. 1944

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

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

Arlene and Maury Bateman on their wedding day

Arlene and Maury Bateman on their wedding day

Arlene ca. 1950

Arlene ca. 1950

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

 

The Bateman family early on.

The Bateman family early on.

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

Arlene Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene Bateman on her 50th Anniversary

Arlene Bateman on her 50th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

Arlene and Maury Bateman in the 1990s

Arlene and Maury Bateman in the 1990s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arlene as a young child

Arlene as a young child

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

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

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

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

Always classy, always understanding ...Arlen Bateman

Always classy, always understanding …Arlene Bateman

Arlene in early 2000s

Arlene in early 2000s

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

Countdown 365: #256 – Amaree Matthews

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

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

 

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

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

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

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

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

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

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

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

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

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

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

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

Amaree in an ad in Japan in the early 1990s

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

Amaree in France during her chorus days

Amaree in France during her chorus days

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

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

One of Amaree's photos near her high school graduation

One of Amaree’s photos near her high school graduation

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

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

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

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

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

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

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Dancing with Amaree

Dancing with Amaree

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

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

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

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

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

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

 

Powerball Frenzy: Dopamine Dreaming

Powerball3Today is the big day!  Yes, the record breaking $1.5 billion Powerball drawing will take place later tonight and somebody’s life will dramatically change.

Just a day after President Obama’s final State of the Union address, the real talk on the web and in social media will likely be this humongous lottery jackpot.  And for me, I am actually excited to get away from Obama bashing, Trump tirades, racial hatred, political memes and yes, the millions of cat and dog photos on Facebook.

powerball-logoMind you, I am not typically a Powerball ticket purchaser.  Not even occasionally such.  But, there are times when I give in and spend a specific budgeted amount to get a couple of them.  Why? For the entertainment value – the opportunity to let my dopamine kick in and do a little dreaming.  Don’t we do that when we spend $14/person to go see a Star Wars movie in 3D?  The joy of the “What if” is pleasurable and gets my mind, if only for a brief few days, off of all of the other banter from Social Media and the news.

KYLotteryTo be sure, I am fully aware that my true chances of taking home the $1.5 billion ($900 million cash upfront minus taxes — maybe about $500 million) is next to not even being slimmly nil.  The odds of getting all six numbers correct, which never change, are slightly more than 292.2 million to 1 (in other words, there are 292.2 million possible combinations of the five white balls and red Powerball. That’s where the one in 292.2 million odds comes from, and they stay the same regardless of how big the jackpot grows or how many people buy tickets).  Let’s face it, our finite minds cannot really fathom numbers in the millions.  So, here are some other things that I may actually have a better chance at than winning the Powerball jackpot….

Here are 10 things more likely to happen to people than winning the lottery.

Getting struck by lightning in any given year: 1 in 1,190,000, according to the National Weather Service.

Dying after being bitten or struck by a dog: 1 in 103,798, according to the National Safety Council.

Hitting a hole in one for an amateur golfer: 1 in 12,500, according to Golf Digest.

Being attacked by a shark: 1 in 11.5 million, according to the International Shark Attack File.

Being fatally struck by an asteroid or comet falling to Earth: 1 in 75,000, according to a Tulane University study.

Being dealt a royal flush in poker: 1 in 649,740, according to Central Washington University.

A woman giving birth to twins: 33.3 in 1,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and 

Dying of a bee, wasp or hornet sting: 1 in 75,852, according to the National Safety Council.

Dying in a plane crash: 1 in 8 million, according to OSHA.

Living to 100 years old in the United States: 1.73 in 10,000, according to the 2010 Census Special Report.

IMG_7132In fact, there is another item that many participate in that has worse odds. Your odds of finishing with a perfect NCAA men’s tournament bracket.Basically, according to some, you have a 1 in 1,610,543,269 chance of calling every game right. A professor at DePaul University has done a different calculation…he says the odds are:

1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808

There are 63 total games in a tournament bracket. For each of those games, two teams play, and one team wins. So, filling out a bracket consists of picking 63 winners. So, you have two options for the first game, two options for the second game, two options for the third game, and so on, for all 63 games. To get the total number of possible ways to fill out a bracket, you multiply together all 63 of these twos, giving us 263, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possible brackets. If all of these brackets are equally likely — if each game in the entire tournament is a 50-50 tossup, and picking the winner is basically a coin flip — we then get the odds of a correct bracket at one in 9.2 quintillion. HA!

WHAT IS THE DOPAMINE THING?

powerball-lottery-winners-1A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News focused on how the lottery can kick dopamine into gear. According to the article:

“It’s the brain chemical associated with reward, pleasure and addiction. And it’s digging into pockets at a maddening pace this week when the California lottery expects to sell $60 million in Powerball tickets — 10 times what it sells on a typical week.

Thanks a lot, dopamine. Whether the jackpot is $9 million or $900million, the odds of winning are stuck at a buzzkilling one in 292 million.”

With $1.5 billion up for grabs, it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to explain how people may be ignoring probability this week because of the way the brain processes risk and reward.

“In the brain stem of a gambler, dopamine neurons are firing very high, pushing them to put out the money, to go and buy the ticket,” said a professor of neurology at UC San Francisco.

IMG_6654I too feel that dopamine rush as I dream of the “What If” options. I consider the entire process…signing the ticket, getting a safe deposit box, getting lawyers and a financial team.  I think about how to allocate the money.  What charities will I be able to pass some on to?  Which family members?

Then comes the fun part…how would I spend the money?  Would we buy a big compound in the mountains and add solar and wind energy?  Would we take a year long cruise? How would we tell our children and what would we do for them?

IMG_6541And to me, the pleasure lasts longer than a Star Wars movie and costs less.  It is fun to have the occasional dopamine dreams. Reality tells me that I don’t have a chance whatsoever.  But, I have a better chance if I buy a ticket. If I don’t buy a ticket, I most certainly won’t win.  But only this time.  I am participating in history!

Money, Money, Money…ain’t it funny, in a rich man’s world.  I am running down a dream and, as Aerosmith sings… Dream On!

But only this time….

Countdown 365: #268 – Olivia Matthews, Grandchild #6

imageToday is the 6th birthday of my 6th grandchild, Olivia Matthews, 3rd child of my oldest daughter Amaree.

All of my grandchildren are special to me and each brings a different personality to the world. But there is really something endearing about Livvy, as she is called by her family.

Maybe it’s that she is the only girl and has grown up fighting her way with 2 older brothers and another younger one. Or maybe it’s her God-given personality, but little Livvy is delightfully spunky, independently fearless and yet has a smile that melts the heart.

Hanging with the Matthews grandkidz, including Livvy

Hanging with the Matthews grandkidz, including Livvy

imageIt saddens me that we live so far away from the Matthews family. We rarely get to see this brood. But, last July we were blessed with the opportunity to spend 10 days with them in Washington and I got to see the blooming of this flowery sweet Livvy.

Indeed, we had visited her in the past when they lived in Montana. But she was still young (yet wickedly spunky even then – in a good sense).

But the trip to Washington really let us see her independent and strong-willed character. I saw that, despite her age, she is a force to reckon with as far as her brothers are concerned.

With Grandkidz in Seattle, summer 2015

With Grandkidz in Seattle, summer 2015

imageLivvy loves butterflies and Orca whales. And like a butterfly, she is gracefully and colorfully flies through life. I sat on the beach in Neah Bay and watched her and her brothers play in a pool of water. Her brothers would run and barely jump in. She would LEAP with gusto time and again, fearless as an orca. I was amazed at her gutsiness — especially as a five year old girl.

Despite her fierce independence, Livvy is still a girl and she loves girly things. Dressed up for church she looks beautiful and her big eyes and bright smile certainly delights the soul of anyone that catches a glimpse of her.

Livvy

Livvy

Livvy is cure in braids

Livvy is cute in braids

She loves getting her hair braided and Amaree strives to get creative with Livvy’s Goldilocks blonde hair.

Livvy is sharp as a new knife and is quick-witted like her Grampz. She has a propensity to tease her brothers and she carries out her plans with excellent precision.

 

 

Livvy will be a leader and show the way

Livvy will be a leader and show the way

imageHonestly, I can see Livvy growing up to be a company CEO, an attorney or even a politician. She has that kind of powerful character.

I love and adore little Livvy. She is most certainly one of my greatest blessings. I am so grateful she is a part of my life and only wish that I could spend more time with this delightful child of God.

Following are a few more of my favorite shots of her.

Livvy and Grammy

Livvy and Grammy

Livvy running on the beach to prep for a leap into the pond

Livvy running on the beach to prep for a leap into the pond

Livvy is a loving sister, here with her older brother Charles

Livvy is a loving sister, here with her older brother Charles

Livvy and brothers having fun with Mom

Livvy and brothers having fun with Mom

Leaping in with gusto

Leaping in with gusto

Livvy loves to learn new things. Learning to sew at age 5

Livvy loves to learn new things. Learning to sew at age 4

Goldilocks

Goldilocks

Livvy - the sand dollar collector

Livvy – the sand dollar collector

Pumpkin picking with little brother Benson

Pumpkin picking with little brother Benson

She and her brothers turn their Mom "Inside Out"

She and her brothers turn their Mom “Inside Out”

Livvy's smile will warm your heart and melt your soul

Livvy’s smile will warm your heart and melt your soul

Countdown 365: #304 – Joe Kravetz, My Adoptive Father

Joe Kravetz with David, ca. 1959

Joe Kravetz with David, ca. 1959 in Albuquerque, NM

Today is the 82nd birthday of Joseph Daniel Kravetz (born 4 December 1933), my adoptive father.  Adoption is the act of legally placing a child with parents (or parent) who are not its natural parents. As I have noted in other posts in the pasts, I have effectively have two sets of parents — my natural parents (Joe Laurienzo and Orene Goldberg, aka Jennierose Lavender) and my adoptive parents (Joe Kravetz and Marjorie Tudor). Of these four, Joe Kravetz had a major and long term role raising me as his adopted child from about age 2 to age 17 and then, of course, has always had the role of my father, despite any ups and downs we have had over the years.  I am truly grateful to him for all of the sacrifices he made in the challenge of raising me.  Much of who I was came from him and my adoptive mother Marge.

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

Joe Kravetz was the third of four children born to Jewish immigrants Alexander Kravetz and Jessica Evelson.  (Ironically, my real father Joe Laurienzo was also a child of Italian immigrants and my natural mother Orene was a child of German/Lithuanian Jewish immigrants). Joe was born in 1932 in Ossining, NY and spent all of his youth growing up there.  His father Alexander emigrated to the United States on the ship George Washington, which departed from Bremen, Germany on 20 July 1914 and arrived in New York on 3 August 1914.  Family tradition says that Alexander walked with a couple of others form his home in Minsk, Russia (now Belarus) to Bremen, Germany where they got on the boat.  They left to escape persecution (think “Fiddler on the Roof” — in fact, Alexander was a tailor!!)

Minsk (currently in Belorus) to Bremen, Germany is about 770 miles

Minsk (currently in Belarus) to Bremen, Germany is about 770 miles

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

Joe’s mother Jessica Evelson (probably spelled Jewelson) also left from Bremen.  She came from Vilnius, Lithuania and arrived in Philadelphia on 4 August 1913 on the USS Neckar.

JoeKKindergaten1938a

Joe Kravetz in Kindergarten ca. 1938. I believe he is the one on the right in the middle row with the white shirt and white shorts and curly black hair.

I don’t have many photos of him as a young.  The photo on the right is the oldest photo I have of him.

He has always had black curly hair and this picture sure shows that head of hair.

He had an older brother Louis, who is still alive and doing well in Houston, Texas. His older sister Evelyn Levy (she married Gordon Levy) was born on November 29th, 1931 and died April 28th, 2005 in Tarrytown, NY.  He also has a younger sister Sylvia who lives in Silver Spring, MD.

Over the years I had numerous opportunities to meet them and many of their children, my cousins through adoption.

Joe never talked much about his life growing up in New York. There was much pain in the family because many of Alexander’s and Jessica’s family lost their lives in the early purges of the 1920s and 30s and then later in the German holocaust of World War II.  I am sure that life had to be tough growing up.

Joe Kravetz in fifth grade in 1944.

Joe Kravetz fifth grade class in 1944. I am assuming he is the one in front on the left

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

Joe and siblings: (L-R) Sylvia, Joe, Evelyn and Lou.

Joe and siblings: (L-R) Sylvia, Joe, Evelyn and Lou in October 1997, Tarrytown, NY

My life with Joe Kravetz began in December 1958 when he married my natural mother Orene Goldberg.  Just about one year earlier, Orene left my natural father Joe Laurienzo.  She returned to her home in Albuquerque, NM as her staunchly Jewish mother wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy.  Naturally, as a young child of two I didn’t have any say in the matter.  No blame is being made here…things happen and the fact that I ended up being the adoptive son to Joe Kravetz was, in many respects, a blessing to my life as it put me on the path to where I am now.  Had I stayed in Cleveland, my life would have taken an entirely different direction!! Following is a clip from the Albuquerque Journal in Dec. 1958 (today was the first time I have ever seen this!!!)

Newspaper clipping announcing the wedding of Orene and Joe (Albuquerque Journal 19 Dec 1958)

Newspaper clipping announcing the wedding of Orene and Joe (Albuquerque Journal 19 Dec 1958)

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958 – Don’t know all of the people in this photo, but Joe and Orene are in the middle.  To Joe’s right is Marion Goldberg and her husband Ralph Goldberg (my natural grandparents). To Orene’s left is grandmother Jessica Kravetz, brother Louis Kravetz.  I believe that the gal on her knees in front of Orene is her sister Maxine.  I think that the one to Maxine’s right is Joe’s sister Sylvia (I believe).

JoeKMilitaryFrom 1954 to 1956 Joe Kravetz served in the US Army as a radio operator.  He did his basic training at Ft. Hood and then was assigned to a facility in Albuquerque. He was discharged in 1956 but then served in the reserves.  Indeed, one of my earliest memories as a child was him coming home to our small duplex in his uniform with a duffel bag.

I don’t know much more about his military service, but do know that is how he made his way to Albuquerque in the first place. And, as a member of the synagogue there, he was ultimately introduced to and married Orene in 1958 and was apparently happy to inherit a son as part of the package.

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

I don’t have many memories of those early years.  I know that eventually, Joe made his way in to retail, working for Payless Drugs in Albuquerque. In July 1960, he and Orene had a child, my half-brother, Aaron.

I do know that Joe loved to take drives to the mountains and see the scenery.  He was also an avid hiker.  He also liked to take pictures.  Fortunately, we have lots of photos of the kids growing up.

However, he was gone a lot due to work and so time with him was rare. And soon it became worse as he and Orene got divorced in 1961 and I was again without a parent.  Aaron and I were left with babysitters most of the time in 1961 and 1962 as he worked as a single parent to raise us…a rarity in the early 1960s. (Note: an interesting article I came across noted that 1960, only about 32 million Americans, 18 and older, were single (either divorced or widowed or always-single). That was 28 percent of the adult population. By 2013, there were 105 million single Americans, accounting for 44 percent of the adult population.)

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

Joe eventually met and married Marjorie Tudor on 13 October 1962.  She was a divorced single mother with a son, Danny, who was only 2 weeks younger then me. So, we were then a family of 5.  We got a house in what was then called Snow Vista (in the NE Heights of Albuquerque just off of Route 66).  By this time Joe was doing well with Payless Drugs (which by then had become Skaggs Drug).  Here are a few photos of Joe over the years.

As can be seen in the photo on the right, he was a handsome man in the 1950s.  Very active and rail thin, which he has been throughout his life.

I have no idea what his aspirations were for life back in the 1950s and not sure how his marriage to Orene and taking on the role of a father changed things for his future.  He never kept a journal and didn’t talk much about those kinds of things, so I am afraid we’ll never know for sure.

Joe in the 1950s doing what he liked best...hiking

Joe in the 1950s doing what he liked best…hiking

Joe Kravetz around 1959

Joe Kravetz around 1959

Joe Kravetz on Long's Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. He took me on this hike

Joe Kravetz on Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. He took me on this hike

Joe with David in 1958, soon after he became my adoptive father

Joe with David in 1958, soon after he became my adoptive father

Joe in Denver, probably on a hike in the Rocky Mountains, ca. 1968

Joe in Denver, probably on a hike in the Rocky Mountains, ca. 1968 (That was his favorite sweater)

Joe with David, Aaron and Danny in 1963 or 64 (in Albuquerque)

Joe with David, Aaron and Danny in 1962 or 63 (in Albuquerque)

By 1964 Marge and Joe had my brother Gary. We were then off to Dallas.  Not long after that he was transferred to Denver, where, eventually, my youngest sibling, my sister Sherry, was born. (Even by this time I was still not aware that I had been adopted)

Joe Kravetz with David, Gary, Aaron and Danny in Dallas in 1964

Joe Kravetz with David, Gary, Aaron and Danny in Dallas in 1964

Sherry and Gary with Dad in 1974

Sherry and Gary with Dad in 1974 (Gotta love those socks!!)

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

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

Dad and me on a hike in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico in 1978, shortly after I returned from my LDS Mission to Japan

Dad and me on a hike in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico in 1978, shortly after I returned from my LDS Mission to Japan

Joe with my siblings Aaron, Gary and Sherry in the 1990s

Joe with my siblings Aaron, Gary and Sherry in January 1992

After more transfers to Great Falls and Bozeman in Montana and then to Sat Lake City (Murray) in Utah, things had gotten challenging.  Both Mom and Dad worked to keep the family together, but they didn’t see eye to eye on much.  I eventually left the house and joined the LDS Church and left on a mission. To this day I am of the opinion that God had prepared a way for me to get to Salt Lake and join the church and that this relationship with Joe was the mode of transport to get me there.  No sooner was I gone and he was transferred to a store in Northridge, CO (by this time Skaggs had become Osco Drug).  He and Marge were soon divorced and she went to Jemez Springs, where she had grown up, and took Gary and Sherry with her.  Aaron went with Dad.  Danny, who had mental retardation, was in a group home in Las Vegas, NM.

Joe hamming it up in front of Osaka Castle with my wife Julianne in 1990

Joe hamming it up in front of Osaka Castle with my wife Julianne in 1990

By 1979 I was married and in college.  Julianne and I made our way to Flagstaff and then, by 1984 we were in Mesa, where I attended graduate school at Arizona State.  All of that time I tried to stay in touch with my Dad. Then in 1987 we went to Japan and were fortunate enough for him to visit.  He had never really been to a foreign country before, so this was a big adventure for him.

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto in 1990

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan in 1990

In his later years, after retiring from Osco, we did keep in touch, but after his Japan visit, he rarely got to see his grandchildren. But, I do have a few shots of him with the grandkids.  The major opportunity came on a family reunion in New York in 1997.

Joe Kravetz with grandkids in 1989...Amaree, Solomon, Seth, Marissa and Chelsea

Joe Kravetz with grandkids in 1989…Amaree, Solomon, Seth, Marissa and Chelsea (in Mesa, AZ when we visited for the holidays from Japan)

Joe with family in 1997 in Tarrytown, NY

Joe with family in 1997 in Tarrytown, NY – Back row – Julianne, sister Sherry, Joe and me.  Front row – Marissa, Chelsea, Amaree, Seth and Solomon

Joe with kids at Cumberland Gap on Kentucky/Tennessee border

Joe with kids at Cumberland Gap on Kentucky/Tennessee border with Solomon, Chelsea and Seth (ca 1993)

Joe with my sister Sherry, her husband Brian and me and Julianne, Christmas 2012

Joe with my sister Sherry, her husband Brian and me and Julianne, Christmas 2012

By the mid 2000s Julianne and I were becoming grandparents ourselves, which meant Joe was becoming a great grandfather. By this time, unbeknownst to us (and perhaps even himself), he was in the early stages of dementia.  Living in San Antonio, TX and working for Barnes and Noble, he had a lonely life. He had become almost hermitlike in existence and I could never get him to even notice that he had great grandchildren.  For a number of years I was bothered by his seeming indifference.  Finally, on a visit to Texas 2011, I was able to see his condition first hand.  And it has gotten worse since then.  But, thanks to my sister Sherry, we were blessed with a visit by her family, along with Dad, during the Christmas holiday in 2012. Joe finally got to see his great grandchildren for the first time…all nine of them at that time (there are 10 now)

Joe with his great grandchildren, plus his granddaughter Savannah (Sherry's daughter) in Dec. 2012

Joe with his great grandchildren, plus his granddaughter Savannah (Sherry’s daughter) in Dec. 2012

Four generations of Kravetz...a rare photo - Seth, Rockwell, David and Joe... Dec. 2012

Four generations of Kravetz…a rare photo – Seth, Rockwell, David and Joe… Dec. 2012

Joe with his then youngest great grandchild Benson Matthews in December 2012

Joe with his then youngest great grandchild Benson Matthews in December 2012

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz in 2014

Joe Kravetz in 2014

Between 2012 and 2014 I made a couple of other visits to Texas and had occasion to see my Dad.  Once was another Kravetz family reunion in Galveston. Joe had become more aloof and unkempt and, for the first time in my recollection, had actually grown a beard.

His teeth were cracked, his toenails were long.  His memory was going (and still is). But he did look classy in a beard, in all honesty.

A selfie with Dad taken in Keller, Texas in July 2014

A selfie with Dad taken in Keller, Texas in July 2014

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

Now, as he turns 82, he is in a nursing home. A few months ago he fell (not the first time) and this time destroyed his hips.  He is probably laid up for the remainder of his life as the healing process is not going well. Sherry tells me he can watch TV but no longer knows how to use the remote to change the channel.  It is sad seeing someone essentially wither away.  My sister Sherry is to be praised for taking care of him the last decade or so.  But it got too hard.  He needed a watchful eye 24/7 and she couldn’t do that.

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

I am grateful to Joe Kravetz for all of the sacrifices he has made.  In many respects, he has had a challenging life, from the days of his youth through his three marriages, difficult children (at times) and then his health challenges.

I am certain that if not for him, I would not be where I am with my lovely wife of 36 years, my 5 awesome children and my 10 wonderful grandchildren.  None of that would have happened, at least not the way it is now, had it not been for him marrying my natural mother Orene and setting the ball in motion and then continuing on that path with Marge. Despite any differences and friction we may have had over the years, I can honestly say I love Dad, appreciate him and am grateful for his enduring spirit.  He has truly been a blessing in my life and I want the world to know.