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: #332 – Julianne Kravetz – My Soul Mate

(Editor’s Note: As I approach age 60, I am “Counting My Many Blessings” by doing a daily countdown from 365. These are in no particular order, but, as you will see in days following, there is a method to the madness.)

JuliSamToday is my dear sweet wife Julianne’s birthday.  She is turning 49 again.  In my list of blessings, she probably sits near the very top.  Only the blessing of life and the blessing of the Atonement can top the blessing of my sweetheart.  My life has been so abundantly filled with joy and happiness because of her.

My life would not be the same if it were not for her being a part of it.  I count myself lucky, beyond words!

 

Julianne as a baby - one of her great Photofabrique projects

Julianne as a baby – one of her great Photofabrique projects

Rainbow - I took this a couple of years in ago in Arkansas. But you get the picture.

Rainbow – I took this a couple of years in ago in Arkansas. But you get the picture.

This morning, as we left the house, it was raining and kind of blasé outside.  We have had such nice weather lately that it was disappointing to have it raining.  I lamented that I had not arranged for better weather.  But, as we drove down Alumni Drive in Lexington, the skies cleared momentarily as the sun came up at around 7:20 and lo and behold, there was a full rainbow ahead of us.  I couldn’t capture a photo of it as we were driving and by the time we dropped her off at UK, it was cloudy and gloomy again.  But, prayers were answered as she did get a rainbow on the way in.  (I have added an old photo of a rainbow I took in Arkansas…best I could do.)

Colorful julianne

Colorful julianne

Julianne is a colorful and talented individual. There are many shades to her.

She is musical…a great violinist (though she will tell you otherwise); a great coordinator of music – she has arranged compositions at home for her daughters and/or family to sing.

She is artistic.  She developed her own fabric art technique called “Photofabrique” and has taught hundreds of people in dozens of classes how to use her patterns to make fabric portraits (like the one posted up above).

Her creativity and musicality are evidenced in this great video of an instrument she created from a carrot!

FunLovingJulianne is also creative.  A great mind.  She writes papers with whimsy and colorful description.  She is a great learner and picks up on things fast.  I have watched her dig into a new software program intent on learning and before long…VOILA!….she has it down pat.

Julianne is a bundle of joy!

At Antique Archaeology in Iowa (home of American Pickers)

At Antique Archaeology in Iowa (home of American Pickers)

Mother of five awesome children

Mother of five awesome children

One of the best things about Julianne is that she has been an amazing mother (and continues to be!!) Despite a number of life challenges, living in Japan for years, traveling cross-country,  living with the family for weeks on end without me while I was away for work, she has overcome all of the obstacles and has raised 5 amazing children.  Most of the credit can go to her!!  Ask the kids and I am sure they will concur whole-heartedly! (If they don’t they will have to deal with their Dad later!)

Kiss those sweet cheeks. I have dozens of "Kiss Sweet Cheeks" pics by the way

Kiss those sweet cheeks. I have dozens of “Kiss Sweet Cheeks” pics by the way

Julianne is also an awesome grandmother.  One of her favorite things to do is to “Kiss those sweet cheeks” and she does it abundantly.

She loves her TEN Grandchildren. Yes, she has TEN of these little darlings and she doesn’t look old enough to have any grandchildren.

I have sworn that as each year goes by, she gets a year younger and I gain two. I’ll bet its the grandchildren that keep her young.  I know that its not me!

Julianne can be goofy

Julianne can be goofy

She can be a goofball at times. She is fun loving and joyful.

Whether it be using a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper as a “tooth protector” (covering all her teeth with the brown wrapper) or using empty pistachio shells as teeth, you can expect something unexpected and funny to come from her.

She would probably seriously injure me if I used some of the goofiest photos I have, but here are a couple of fun ones that I “think” I can get away with….

She took Redneck teeth with her on a Cruise to Alaska and actually wore them in a restaurant in Seattle. Here she is posing with our waiter Spike

She took Redneck teeth with her on a Cruise to Alaska and actually wore them in a restaurant in Seattle. Here she is posing with our waiter Spike

This is her Facebook Profile Photo

This is her Facebook Profile Photo

I don’t dare put her “Peel Mask” photos up…..

Number1I have enjoyed my wonderful times with this gem of a person.  She is most certainly my number 1 blessing.

She has stuck with me through thick and thin…more thick lately.

She has been there for me as a strength and support in the more challenging times of life.

She has loved me despite my quirks, foibles, weaknesses, failings and multiplicities of verbal faux pas foot-in-mouth thoughtless comments over the years.

LoveShe has had patience with me and still loves me despite all of these things.

After 36+ years of marriage and time with her, I am more in love today than I ever have been.

I adore her and almost idolize her.  Does she have weaknesses and missteps?  Not that I have seen….

Julianne is the love of my life.  I admit that “I Married Up” with all the gusto I can muster.

I Married Up....

I Married Up….

The Sweetest Kind of Hershey Kiss!

The Sweetest Kind of Hershey Kiss!

Enjoying life from the '70s on with her.

Enjoying life from the ’70s on with Julianne

Loving life

Loving life

Still loving life together in 2015

Still loving life together in 2015

Julianne is and always will be one of the greatest blessings in my life.  Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

Countdown 365: #335 The Simple Things Part 2

LittleThingsThere are times when I sit back and think of things I am grateful for that are typically overlooked…things that we consider normal parts of life…the little things.  These are the things we all take for granted…

Electricity, Plumbing, Windows, Cars, Heaters, Telephones, Houses, Clean Water, Soap

Let There Be LightHow often do we turn on a light switch expecting the lights to come on never thinking about the miracle electricity is?

RunningWater2What if you turned on the faucet and no water came flowing?  Do you ever think “such a blessing” for running, clean water?

WindowsIn America we have windows everywhere.  Glass is a simple blessing…but the windows we have are even more so.  They keep us warm, they keep us cool, they keep the bugs out, they provide lovely views of our outside world while protecting us.  When I visited China in 1991, all of the houses had “windows”, but these were just panels that opened…no glass windows.  Next time you look out a window, consider the simple blessing.

TelephoneSo, as I am writing this, the song Rings” comes on by Lobo… a song from the 70s.  And he says “Let the telephone ring.” (No Joke!! This happened to come on…love synchronicity).  Anyway, how many times have we picked up the phone (or the cell phone) to call someone. Have we considered the miracle of this kind of communication?  When we are away and miss our family, we pick up the phone and call.  Many in this world don’t have this blessing.  Next time you call the wife or the grandkidz or the pizza place, think about the blessings of the phone. (And as I wrote that the NEXT song to come on the iPod is Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” by U2 with the lyric “And it’s you when I look in the mirror, And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone, Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.” )

SoapSoap is another surefire miracle.  It cleanses us and refreshes us. But many in this world not only have to live with dirty water, but also have no soap to cleanse themselves with.  And in this age of a myriad of scented “Bath and Body Works” soaps as well as other kinds of scented soaps (including Bacon Scented Soap!), do we ever stop to consider these with gratitude?

Next time you flip a switch, turn a key, open a window, make a call, turn on the radio, tie a shoe….think about the blessings that these little simple things are

 

Countdown 365: #342 – Transpiration

ColorfulMissouriHa!  Transpiration is a blessing to us all and I am wondering if many of you know what it is.  It is a life force for this earth and for all of us. Transpiration is the process by which moisture is carried through plants from roots to small pores on the underside of leaves, where it changes to vapor and is released to the atmosphere. Transpiration is essentially evaporation of water from plant leaves.

TreeSunDSC_7782-1024x680Plant transpiration is pretty much an invisible process, since the water is evaporating from the leaf surfaces, you don’t just go out and see the leaves “sweating”. Just because you can’t see the water doesn’t mean it is not being put into the air, though. During a growing season, a leaf will transpire many times more water than its own weight. An acre of corn gives off about 3,000-4,000 gallons of water each day, and a large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons per year.

OldTreeIsn’t nature wonderful?  Things transpire on a daily basis and without a thought about the amazing processes, we go on with life.  These processes keep us alive and for this, I am grateful and count things like transpiration as a blessing.

Next time you see a tree, think about the roots, the leaves and the processes that create oxygen and moisture. Then count these things as blessings.

Countdown 365: #343 – Guitar Heroes 1 – Pete Huttlinger

(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.)

Pete1Over the past twenty years I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing musicians due to my long friendship with musician Antsy McClain. Through him I also met the amazing producer and music aficionado Eddie Mattiningly, who introduced me to some of these amazing musicians and people. These are phenomenal guitarists yet are not “all about themselves” as they are friendly, giving and caring.  Among these, there are a group I call my “guitar heroes.” Some of them I have not met, but most I have and with some of them I have been blessed to develop a friendly relationship.

Pete Huttlinger

Pete Huttlinger

The first of these I want to mention is Pete Huttlinger. I have had the amazing blessing of getting to know Pete and his wife Erin over the years. I first met them at a show in Elizabethtown, KY and actually did some videos of Pete, which I have on my YouTube site (one of which I have shared below).  Pete is one of those fine musicians who made others even better.  He toured the world with John Denver over the last four years of Denver’s life.  He has performed with LeAnn Rimes in many places around the world and on television.  Currently he also does some performances with John Oates of Hall and Oates.

But, he is also an amazing musician on his own.  He has released a number of albums including my favorite, McGuire’s Landing.  He has done an entire CD of Stevie Wonder tunes (including Superstition as can be seen in the video below – filmed and edited by Sumoflam Productions).

But, there is another less known side of Pete.  He is a survivor. About five years ago he had a major stroke that caused him to be paralyzed on his right side and rendered him speechless. He went through a scary surgery only to find that he had a defective heart.  His wife and many of his friends and fans prayed often for him and Erin stuck with him through thick and thin.  He is now back on the road performing and doing what he loves best…playing fantastic guitar licks to satisfy the musical hankerings of many like myself and entertaining those who attend his shows. His playing style is heart-warming.  His person is even more so.

JoinedAtThe HeartHe and Erin have recently published a book called “Joined at the Heart.” I have recently obtained a copy and can’t wait to read it.  The book is all about his struggle and the struggle of his dear wife Erin.  And, moreover, it is a love story — it is all about their joint effort in love and humor to overcome the dire adversity that they faced.  I know it will be inspirational and uplifting.

Pete is a survivor.  Erin is a survivor.  And I am grateful for their acquaintance and the inspiration they provide — even more than the heart-soothing sounds of Pete’s amazing musical talents.

Knowing them is a true blessing in my life.

Countdown 365: #349 – Challenges as Blessings

Craters of the Moon drive June 2013Everyone faces challenges in life. We all have different struggles whether they be with health, family, jobs, relationships, finances, addictions or other things.  Struggles come with the territory. Life offers few straight paths and so we meander on our way and learn as we go.

 

yinyangIn my college days I spent many semesters studying Asian history, geography and philosophy.  Perhaps one of the greatest things I learned was the Taoist principle of Yin/Yang.  Defined, Yin/Yang indicates two halves that together complete wholeness. Yin and yang are also the starting point for change. When something is whole, by definition it is unchanging and complete. So when you split something into two halves – yin / yang, it upsets the equilibrium of wholeness. This starts both halves chasing after each other as they seek a new balance with each other.

YiinYangTreeThe word Yin comes out to mean “shady side” and Yang “sunny side”. Yin/Yang is the concept of duality forming a whole. We encounter examples of Yin and Yang every day. As examples: night (Yin) and day (Yang), female (Yin) and male (Yang). Over thousands of years quite a bit has been sorted and grouped under various Yin Yang classification systems.

The symbol for Yin Yang is called the Taijitu. Most people just call it the yin yang symbol in the west. The taijitu symbol has been found in more than one culture and over the years has come to represent Taoism.

OddWaynopressurenodiamondI count myself fortunate to have challenges…and believe me, I have a bucket full of them.  Oft times we have no idea why we have them, but I have learned in my 59 years of life that they mold me. They make me better. I have determined that our challenges are like the pressure that coal goes through to become a glittering diamond. No pressure, no diamonds.

Sometimes challenges aren't fun

Sometimes challenges aren’t fun

Sunny

I Saw The Light

So, I chose many years to take the Yin with the Yang. Though miserable at times, I try to smile and get through it, because I KNOW there is something to be learned, something to be gained.  Life provides enlightenment in the long run.

Indeed, not all blessings are the bright and happy ones.  Some MUST be the dark ones in order to have balance. That job loss may actually lead to a better opportunity.  That rough ride will eventually lead to a smooth road. That bump on the head will go away.

I count my challenges as blessings.  Bring ’em on universe.  I am ready!

SmoothChallenge

Countdown 365: #352 – Nature’s Complex Simplicity

Open your eyes, look up, look down and look around…the world is full of what I call “complex simplicity.”

 

Spider and Web

 The spider spins and creates her web. So complex, yet simple and quiet…and amazing. 

 

One bush, many colors


As autumn approaches, plants become a colorful canvas for nature. One bush can have a variety of colors… It feels me with awe. 
 

Sunrise in clouds


Sunsets and sunrises happen every day. Sometimes they are blocked from view by the clouds. Other times the clouds have a special texture. So simple, but complex in that this same scene will never be repeated exactly. 
 

Textured clouds


How can clouds form like these above? What kind of wind and air current and conditions cause this kind of texture? It amazes me that it can be so symmetrical yet, knowing that this will never look exactly the same makes it so complex.

 

Ladybug Larvae


I was filling the car with gas one day and saw this little insect on the trunk of the car. No longer than an inch, I wondered what it could be? A beetle? A flying insect? Turns out that this is what a ladybug looks like before it becomes a ladybug. 59 years of never seeing one of these… Amazing.

 

Floating leaf


I walked to my car one morning to leave the house and saw a leaf floating in mid air. It’s fun around and moved around, but it remained in mid air. The closer inspection revealed one tiny silk strand. holding it in place. Another simply complex marvel of nature.

 

Flowers

 
And finally, there are flowers. We see them every day. But do we really look closely at them? Flowers seem so simple, but in reality, they have so much symmetry, Unique art.

Indeed, simple things of nature with all of their complexity are a blessing to the eyes that look at them and see the finer details. I count this as a big blessing in my life.

Countdown 365: #364 – The First Day of the Rest of My Life

(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.)

BabyPicSince I was born on October 4, 1956 (with the birth name of Carmen David Laurienzo), the REAL first full day of my life took place on October 5, 1956.  It only follows that my note of thanks…my blessing for this day…would be to express gratitude to my natural mother and father. I was born into an Italian household in Cleveland, OH.  My father, Joseph Laurienzo (2Mar35 – 2Dec92) was 21 and my mother, Orene Goldberg (8Apr39), a Jewish girl from Albuquerque was 17.  They were young.  She had been sent to Cleveland to go to a girl’s boarding school.  Joe’s family were Italian immigrants.  His father and mother had come by ship and then moved to Cleveland in the Murray Hill section, which is now called Little Italy.  Joe was born in the same home I was born in.  The families were close knit.

Orene and Joe ca. 1956

Orene and Joe ca. 1956 (before I was born)

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

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

My grandfather Carmen Laurienzo with my father Joe when he was a child. Not sure when this was taken...maybe the 1940s?

My grandfather Carmen Laurienzo with my father Joe when he was a child. Not sure when this was taken…maybe the 1940s?

I am pretty certain that I was brought into a loving home and that my parents cared about me.  But, after almost a year, Orene’s parents forced her to move back to Albuquerque with me.  I never saw my real father again and, in fact, I never knew who he was until around the summer of 1974 when I had a chance to visit Orene, who had left me years before (I was adopted by my step parents in the early 1960s). I got to call Joe and speak with him…the only time I was able to.  But, I am grateful for that.

As a baby in Cleveland

As a baby in Cleveland

JoeLThe first time I had ever even seen what he looked like was when he sent me the photo to the right as I prepared to go on a mission. I still have the letters he wrote me while I served as a missionary in Japan.

Ultimately, I am grateful to have a knowledge of my posterity on my father’s side.  The family came from Matrice, in the CampoBasso region of Italy. I am sure there must be relatives there even today.

JoeLObitI first came to Kentucky in 1992 and while here I had hoped to get up to Cleveland to finally see my real father.  Sadly, by 1993, when I first had a good chance, he had already passed on.  I have visited his grave site on a couple of occasions and have since met with my sisters and brother and have a good relationship with my long lost family.

As for my mother Orene, she left me when I was about 4 and I did not see her again until I was about 18.  We have had an on and off relationship over the years, but that debt of gratitude for her bringing me into this world will always be there.  I actually spoke to her for the first time in years on my birthday yesterday.  She is now 78 and living in an assisted care facility in California.  She was alert, she shed tears of regret and tears of joy through the conversation.

With my natural mother Orene in 1976 in Murray, UT

With my natural mother Orene in 1976 in Murray, UT

By the 1980s Orene had changed her name to Jennierose Lavender.  She had a number of issues with life, but still wanted to have a relationship with her children and grandchildren.  Though my wife and I were not in agreement with her chosen lifestyle, we have never kept our children from communicating with their natural grandmother.

With my half brother Aaron and my mother in the 1980s.

With my half brother Aaron and my mother in the 1980s.

As her days wane, I committed to her to once again renew my relationship by calling on Sundays.  She is my mother.  She carried me for nine months and brought me into this world.  Despite all of the challenges and the journey she took, I owe her the gratitude for her sacrifices on my behalf and owe her the love and care in her last few years of life.

That is the real path to gratitude.

Vicissitudes of Life: Birth and Death

The sands of time
They seem to flow
Against the grain
Of the life we know
David Kravetz, 1975

VicissitudesI wrote the above shortly before joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At the time, I was dabbling a bit in poetry and had just gone through some challenging times in my life. It was the first time I had experienced a vicissitude in my life.

Vicissitude is an interesting word. Searching through definitions, the general meaning is: A change or variation occurring in the course of something. interchange or alternation, as of states or things. vicissitudes, successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs

BackRoadLTI really like to look at “vicissitudes of life” as meaning “ups and downs” of life. We all have them and how we deal with them sets the course of our life from that point on. We all have our own special journeys as we pursue life.  Many times our paths cross with others on their journeys and the impact of the crossing of paths may cause adjustments to our own journeys.

Jamie Showkeir

Jamie Showkeir

Recently, a beloved brother in law of mine, Jamie Showkeir, passed away after a year long struggle with the devastating disease known as ALS.  Many have heard the term, but it means amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  Jamie, was dealt a new vicissitude in life down a road with a definite dead end.  And he knew it.  But he chose to deal with it rather than to let it deal with him.

In September 2014, Jamie, already diagnosed with this dastardly disease, was interviewed for an article in the Arizona Republic.  The author, Kari Bland, is a friend of Maren, Jamie’s wife (Maren is my wife’s sister). Like so many others, she was hit hard by the news.

Jamie at his best

Jamie at his best

You see, Jamie isn’t the guy this should have happened to.  He was active, he was smart, he was athletic. He practiced yoga. He had a lust for life and was an avid cyclist, hiker and nature lover. He was a talented author and teacher.

But, one day he began feeling weakness in his left arm and from that day forward, his life would change.  And the challenging part, especially for him, but really, for all of us, was knowing that the degeneration was on the body…but the mind was always alert and he had to deal with it.

Kari notes in her article “Here’s the deal, Kari, for me,” Jamie said. “We can’t always choose the cards that we’re dealt, but the choice we have is how we are going to play them.

I read that article back then and that quote has stuck with me.  And Jamie has always played the cards well.  And he did this time as well.  He passed away on his own terms, dealing with the disease and the circumstances in the best attitude he could muster.  Ultimately, Jamie died on August 16 this year, his 63rd birthday, at his home in Phoenix with his wife, Maren, by his side.

Jamie left a positive impact on 100s of people, including me.  He was a mentor to me (and he didn’t even know it!) Three or four times I called him for advice due to his wisdom of the business world. (He and Maren have authored two books).

And this is where the “ups and downs” of life come in.  The sorrow of Jamie’s passing lasted a number of months, even before it happened.  We all knew it was coming. The day it happened was hard on all of us.  However, life would continue to throw interesting curve balls along the way.

11998663_10153594403937090_269566728_nJust a two short weeks after Jamie’s passing, I got to sit in a chair at my son’s house in Connecticut and hold my brand new grandson, Samuel. He was a milestone grandson for me, my tenth. Born on August 31, he brought a new gleam of joy into my life.

I love holding newborn babies, especially those that are my grandchildren. And I so looked forward to this opportunity to be with this little guy.

As I sat with him and held this sweet child, my mind wandered off into the complexities of life, the ups and downs.  The tough swings of dealing with life and death.

11997958_10153594404197090_2070403904_nIn two short weeks I experienced the passing of a dearly beloved brother in law and then a birth of a new grandchild. The words “vicissitudes of life” bounced around in my head.  I was all at once taken aback by the waves of life. I marveled at how life’s journey can present such dichotomies in such a short time.

For me, the birth of Samuel was, in essence, the rebirth of Jamie.  The two of them will be forever etched together in my mind. No, I am not a believer in reincarnation.  But, Samuel will always remind me of the joy that Jamie brought to me and hundreds of others. Simple, unfettered joy.

And, for a few short weeks, I forgot all about my own “vicissitudes” of life and basked in the joys of life and death…of people that mean so much more than the challenges of jobs, money and things. I am grateful for Jamie.  I am grateful for Samuel.

Rowling11999959_10153594619962090_589360215_n

A Tale of Two Friends: Jonathan and Russ

Last week (July 14-16, 2015) I had a sudden opportunity to go to Utah for a quick work project for former Navy SEAL and Author Rob Roy.  It was a good opportunity for me to return “home” and to also visit with two of my life’s most influential and long lasting friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. I was blessed to spend a couple of hours with each of them (I will detail more at the end of this post).

It all started in the late summer of 1973 as my step-father was transferred from Bozeman, Montana to Salt Lake City, more specifically, Murray, Utah. At that time I would attend my third different high school in three years as I started as a senior at Murray High School.

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

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

We had moved to the heart of Mormon country and I was not Mormon.  But, as a fairly religious 16 year old, I decided to learn more about this church by also choosing to attend seminary, which in those days was held in a building just off of the high school campus and could be attended during school hours.

Through seminary I had the opportunity to meet new people and this was where I first met Jonathan and Russ.  It turned out that I lived in their neighborhood (and also their Church Ward).

Jonathan and Russ were part of the “in crowd” at Murray.  They were popular, they were on the football team and had lots of friends.  I was fortunate to become acquainted with them as one residing in their ward. I was often invited to participate in church youth activities with them, which I relished. I really felt lucky.

Having lived in Montana for three years (and loving it!), I spoke a lot about the state and thus received the nickname “Monty Montana” from Jonathan. I didn’t mind the nickname and it stuck through my senior year and beyond.  Everyone at Murray knew me as “Monty.” Even to this day I chuckle about that nickname, the only other one I really had besides my now well known “Sumoflam.”

David K in 1976

David in early 1976

As I pondered this early friendship the last couple of days, I was struck by the selfless and caring nature that Jonathan, Russ and a few other choice souls, mainly from the Murray 20th Ward, befriended this sort of braggish kid from Montana.  I had come from a fairly dysfunctional family, wasn’t Mormon and was starting all over again in trying to make friends as a senior in high school while still trying to find myself.  Ultimately, these friends, and especially Jonathan and Russ, changed my life direction for ever and for good.

As the school year progressed I visited Jonathan’s house often.  He lived about a block away.  His father Boyd was the Bishop of the Ward and ultimately became like a second father to me as I attended church and eventually became a member in 1975. I spent a lot of time at Jonathan’s house because there was so much contention in my home.  I wasn’t happy there, but I felt loved and accepted at the Jensen house.

The same could be said for Russ.  He and I got on very well.  We were both jokers and experts at the art of the pun. He lived a couple of blocks away and I visited his home often as well.  In fact, his mother Doris became like a second mother to me. Unlike Jonathan, Russ grew up in more modest circumstances.  His father had died a number of years before and his mother was a single mother raising a large family. I think that Russ and I appreciated each other because neither of us had much.  But, the one thing I loved about Russ’s home was the love I felt whenever I visited.  Not the love for me…but the love in the household. And I loved going there.

Jonathan Jensen in 1976

Jonathan Jensen in 1976

As I mentioned above, I eventually joined the church in January 1975 and Jonathan was the one that baptized me.  I was grateful for this.  You see, I was kicked out of the house for wanting to do this.

I need to note here that these guys were not interested in me as a “potential member” of the church.  They were interested in me as a person, as an individual and as a friend. They were really the first true friends I had ever had in my short 17 years of life.  I relished this friendship and it was the love and unselfishness nature of these guys that ultimately made me feel that I was where I was supposed to be,

In fact, I am certain that my kind Heavenly Father placed them in my path and facilitated the way for us to become long lasting friends. And these two, Jonathan and Russ, have continued to be close friends through the years, despite any distance or length of time without communication.

On my mission in Japan in 1976

On my mission in Japan in 1976 – that’s me in the middle in the back

They left on their LDS Missions in 1975, Jonathan to Sweden and Russ to Canada.  I was fortunate to still have other friends from the ward, but I really missed them.  I had a fairly good job for an 18 year old and in December 1975 I too received a call to serve a mission to Nagoya Japan.  Just the day before I had been offered a big job opportunity for an 18 year old and I had to spend a weekend stewing whether to serve a mission or to take this high paying job.  In the end, and unbeknownst to either Jonathan or Russ, I chose the mission and it was due to their excellent examples and their unfettered and unselfish friendship for me that led me to make this correct decision.

Jonathan on far right on my wedding day in Mesa, Arizona in July 1979

Jonathan on far right on my wedding day in Mesa, Arizona in July 1979

After returning home from my mission I spent many fun times with these guys.  I went to see Marx Brothers movies with Russ many times.  I ultimately moved into a house in Provo with Jonathan as I attended BYU.  The friendship continued.  When I married my sweetheart Julianne, Jonathan came to the wedding in Arizona. I was honored and grateful that my “brother” would take the time to come down from Utah for my special day.

Russ and David in Memphis in January 2004

Russ and David in Memphis in January 2004

Through the years since the 1970s, our paths diverted as I went to Japan and they got busy.  We rarely stayed in touch, but in those times when we did get together, it was as if there had never been a separation in time.  It was like old times. In 2004, Russ and one of his sons made the trip to Kentucky to visit and then we ventured to Memphis to attend the Liberty Bowl as BYU played Louisville. It was a fun time for us.  Louisville beat BYU, but that was not the memory I cherished.  It was time with my good friend Russ Graves that I valued and cherished.

Hanging with Jonathan in October 2007 at his house in bountiful, UT

Hanging with Jonathan in October 2007 at his house in bountiful, UT

In October 2007 I had the opportunity to attend a huge missionary reunion in Bountiful, Utah, which is where Jonathan lives to this day.  As the true selfless individual he was, he offered me a place to stay at his home during the visit. It was great to see all of those with whom I served on my mission with, but the real treat was spending some time with Jonathan and his family. I attended a football game, I visited with his Dad and we spent some quality time together.  I was amazed at how he made sure he had time to spend with me in the short three days I was there.  It was great to get to know his children.  He also took me into Murray to meet with Russ. We had a great time together.

Over the years, I have been able to call Jonathan for consoling, advice or to just fill him in on life.  He too has called me.  We don’t communicate often.  He has a huge family and is a busy attorney.  My conversations with Russ are even fewer.  Russ has about 15 children and has done well as a software developer.

And now, in 2015, all of us are in our late 50s (and will all be in our 60s before 2016 is over). All of three of us are grandparents.  All of us have had children serve missions.  But, the lasting, unselfish friendships still remain.  And last week’s events were a testament to this.

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort, July 2015

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort, July 2015

My flight to Salt Lake City last Tuesday had some unexpected schedule changes and this caused Rob Roy’s staff some challenges in trying to get me picked up at the airport.  I had already let Jonathan know I was coming in and that I had hoped we could meet up, even for a few minutes.

As I arrived in Salt Lake, I received a text message from Rob Roy’s staff that they were going to have trouble getting me picked up.  So, I called Jonathan to see what his schedule was like.  Fortunately for me, he had enough flexibility to come out and pick me up, even on the spur of the moment. This is the same place that he picked me up in April 1978 as I returned home from my mission.  It was not my parents…it was my best friend Jonathan Jensen.  And here he was 37 years later again picking me up.  We went for a drive south to have something to eat (and in typical Jonathan fashion he treated me).  I had let him know about the schedule mess up and Jonathan said he would take me to Sundance resort.  Bottom line, he literally dropped everything to accommodate me…the same selflessness he had shown me in 1973 as he became a new friend to a lost and lonely soul in high school. I was overwhelmed.

The LDS Draper Temple

The LDS Draper, UT Temple

We took a fabulous drive past the Draper Temple and saw a spectacular view of the Salt Lake Valley.  From there, he took me back behind the mountain and into Alpine, UT (which, ironically, is where my father in law Maurice Bateman grew up).  We took the beautifully scenic Alpine Loop up and over into the approach to Provo Canyon and ultimately Sundance Resort.

With Jonathan at Sundance Resort

With Jonathan at Sundance Resort

Jonathan could have easily said he was too busy to take me to Sundance and I would have totally understood.  But, he took me up there and then spent time talking.  We reminisced, as we always do, but we also talked about his father, who passed away in 2014, we talked about his children and their missions, their marriages and then we talked about his grandchildren. I got my stuff together and we walked and sat on a bench with a great view of the lovely Mt. Timpanogos. I was at home in the Utah Mountains and spending time with one of my all time heroes. And he made the time to do so.  We parted ways finally as he needed to return.  However, he got into Lehi and discovered I had left my wallet in the car.  Despite his schedule, being tired, etc., he turned around and brought it all the way back up to Sundance.  And that is ALWAYS how Jonathan has been…selfless, caring and loving. I am so indebted to this guy I will never be able to repay him.

With Russ Graves in Murray, UT July 2015

With Russ Graves in Murray, UT July 2015

While I was with Jonathan, we called Russ.  We were all friends of course, and have gotten together in the past.  Unfortunately, Russ couldn’t make it, but he did offer to pick me up on Thursday morning.  I was staying in a hotel in Orem, UT and Russ showed up to get me early.  Once again, like Jonathan, he moved his schedule around on the spur of the moment to do this. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, had conversations about family, talked Marx Brothers and Russ whipped off his puns as always.  He told me about his dear mother, who is now in her 80s and in a nursing home. We visited his lovely (and huge) home in Murray, where I go to see the family missionary wall, the grandchildren wall and experience the joy and warmth of his home.  I got to chat with his sweet wife Gayle, whom I still recall as the young sweet girl from Wyoming I knew in the late 1970s as she and Russ were married. Then, like Jonathan, Russ exhibited his unselfishness and loving nature and took me into the Salt Lake airport for my flight back to Kentucky.

Over the years I have developed dozens of good friendships.  Many of them will be eternal friendships.  But, of all the friends and acquaintances I have, there are none to rival the bonds that have developed over the years with Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves.  Indeed, I owe my very life’s course to them.  They changed my life forever (and for better) and for this, I will always treasure the friendship.  They have taught me over and over what true friends are.

Thank you Jonathan and Russ.