Big Mac 50th Anniversary Celebration — kinda

I am a sucker for Pop Culture kitsch.  So, today McDonald’s kicked off the 50th Anniversary Celebration for the Big Mac by giving out commemorative coins when you order a Big Mac (while supplies last, of course). Being the Pop Culture lover that I am, we went for it.

I remember well when the Big Mac was introduced with the catchy song that said “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”  I can still rattle that off after 50 years!

Well, I learned from the web announcements that only 6.9 million coins were to be given out in over 14,000 locations. The coins can be collected or, alternatively, can be used one time between now and the end of the year to get a free big Mac.

Coin Commemorating the First Ten years (1968-1978)

Coin Commemorating the LAST TEN years (2008-2018)

Showing off our coins from McDonald’s — all three were the same coin

There are five coins representing each decade from 1968 to 2018 and the idea is to collect all five coins. It was supposed to be such that when you go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac that you get a free coin. I went with Autumn first thing this morning (after 10:30 when lunch starts) and ordered two big Macs and they told me only one coin per order. (The ads specifically said “Buy a Big Mac, get a Free Coin.”) We later went to another McDonald’s and they told me they’re given out for EACH Big Mac and they gave a coin for each one ordered, even if they had to make separate orders at the time.

Coins at McDonald’s

Turns out that each restaurant gets a box of coins that are all the same so you have to go to multiple restaurants to get all five coins which means you have to go to multiple restaurants and buy multiple Big Macs as you cannot buy three Big Macs at one restaurant to get three different coins.  Hassleiferous!!

The McDonald’s Restaurant design near the Galleria in Dallas up until December 2017.

Another view of the former design

To further tell the story, I had done some research and discovered that one of the most unique McDonald’s restaurants in the world was actually in Dallas and so we took the nearly 40 minute drive down there to go see this McDonald’s that looks like a giant happy meal with a giant Big Mac. I thought it would be a perfect backdrop for showing off our new Big Mac Coins on the Big Mac 50th birthday! Much to our surprise, that particular restaurant design was no longer there and when we went in to ask about it, we were told that the store had been remodeled in December 2017. Sadly, the eight or nine different websites that had pictures and told about the unique design of the former restaurant were not apprised of the changes and had not done any follow up to verify. We drove 40 miles from Fort Worth to go there. Sadly JSP Management (the Franchisee for the DFW area) never bothered to share the information….. A wasted drive of 80 miles…..  Interestingly, the manager there told me they get a few people everyday that come in and ask what happened.  SAD.

The remodeled design as of January 2018

You can see above what the original looked like and what it looks like today. I guess that McDonald’s would rather generesize their stores so, like their basically non-descript generic burgers, their stores to are all non-descript. That too is sad.

All said, I do have two different coins and I am happy about that. And that’s all I’m going to get it because I am not going for any more Big Macs today!  Chances are they will all be gone over the next day or two.

Being Mr. MomGrampz

Hanging with RockE and Sammy

For two weeks in February (2018) I spent my time in Cypress, TX babysitting my two grandsons, Rockwell age 7 and Samuel age 2. Honestly, this was a crazy thing for me to commit to do when looking at it in retrospect. That said, it was also a joyful thing to do, despite some of the not so joyful things that accompanied it.

When I committed to do this a couple of months before, based on a request from my son Seth and his wife Holly, my wife was concerned as to whether or not I could do it alone. I think I agreed with her back then but felt that I had made a commitment to go forth and try. Interestingly enough, my children all seemed to have faith in me.

Sammy in my hat

Cowboy RockE – prepped for Western Days

Playtime with Grampz

As I drove from Lexington to Cypress, there were four or five instances where I thought to myself literally “what in the heck am I getting myself into?”

While I managed two children and a full-time job and all of the other things going on with taking care of children and the household, my son and his wife enjoyed their time in Disney World, universal studios, and a week long cruise in the Caribbean going to Jamaica and Haiti.

Visiting my Cousin Lew in Austin

I will say upfront and right now, this was not easy. Even now, I think to myself that it was a crazy and maybe even insane commitment. But I made it through! And the boys are still alive and smiling! In fact, my sons have told me that for almost a week after I left little Sam would wake up in the morning calling my name to come get him.

Chowing down on Cheerios

Smiley boy

Many people, including strangers that I at times ran into, said that I was a good grandpa. Others asked “how do you do it?“

There is great strength in love. Love got me through this. I love all 10 of my grandchildren and I have grown a stronger love for my two grandsons down there in Texas.

Oh no, this was not a box of cherries. In fact, it was more like a cup full of pits with an occasional cherry thrown in. Once again, this was not easy.

Visiting a What-a-burger Superhero

Becoming a hero with Rockwell – Pancakes for dinner

But, as I responded to those who made their comments about my adventure down in Houston, I oftentimes responded that “I will look back on this time with fondness.“

We often forget the hard times and the challenges because the joyful times seem to sink deeper into our memories. And there were plenty of those mingled amidst the mundane, and even super poopy times.

Playing “Grab Hat” with Sammy

I won’t soon forget the playfulness of little Samuel. Really, he is a joyful little boy. But, he is two years old and the term “terrible twos“ fits him well. Nonetheless, how can a grandfather be angry when he yells “no!“ at his grandson for getting into something or being obnoxious, and his grandson walks over, looks him in the eye and starts kissing his arm as a form of apology? And how can I not forget my melted heart every time I peeled and sectioned a Mandarin orange and set it on the table for him and he would say “thank you Grampz?”‘And that, totally unsolicited.

Then, there were many times where I would say “thank you Sammy,“ and he would say in his cute little voice “You’re welcome Grampz.”

Mandarin Orange Mania – the source of Captain Poopypants I think

Gotta love this happy face

The faces of happiness and crabbiness

Trust me, things were not always hunky-dory with little Sammy. He did not get his new nickname “Captain Poopypants“ from me for no reason. I have not changed diapers in probably 15 or 20 years. I got plenty of opportunities here and some of them were, well, pretty crappy! Not once, not twice, but three times he had massive overload that leaked out of his diaper onto the car seats, shirts, up his back, and everywhere because there was no room left in the diaper. Captain Poopypants!!

Enjoying Baseball practice with Grampz

I’m gonna be a ball player Grampz

He did sleep sometime

Almost every day, working with little Sammy was a roller coaster ride! His mood swings drove me bonkers. He made it perfectly clear when he did not want something or when he did not like to go somewhere. But, Grampz is much bigger and stronger and Sammy would always lose that battle.

Despite the battles, Sammy is a very forgiving young little guy. I still get joy thinking about setting him up on the changing table, or elsewhere when I was changing him and he would be nervous about the height and would start to whimper. I taught him to fold his arms and assured him he would not fall. It got to the point where he would actually say “fold arms?“ And I would say “yes”, you’ll be just fine because Grampz will hold you. Sammy did not fall. And, initially he would not take my hand and fly from the dresser down to the floor but by the end of the two weeks, he was a highflying super baby! Flying Captain Poopypants!

Gramps and Sammy are great pals

He was very playful most of the time. He was a handful at other times. But, I know that I will forget most of the difficult times with him (though I will most likely not forget the massive poopy diapers).

Rockwell trying to hit

Rockwell and Grampz are pals too

Mr. Basketball?

Then, there is the seven-year-old Rockwell. He is one of the most pleasant and easy going boys around. He was generally very cooperative and always willing to help. I am proud of that guy!

But, he is seriously addicted to Minecraft and had his head in the gameboy quite often. I figured, as a two week long babysitter, I did not want to fight too much, so I let it be except in certain circumstances. But, it did become a great tool for battling non-cooperation and other areas. All it took was “do you want to lose the game boy for a day?“ And he was as good as can be!

The morning ritual ” Chew and View”

SpiderRock!

Early mornings consisted of him getting up, playing the game boy for 20 minutes with the television on and then making his breakfast and he would do what I referred to as his “chew and view“ exercise. Once again, I tended to be more on the lenient side as long as he was chewing while viewing.

Helping out with Sammy

Player of the Game!

Let me tell you, Rockwell is a humongous, wonderful helper! He put away the dishes, he put away the folded clothes, he picked up the living room, he took out the garbage, he would help little Sammy when I couldn’t help.

And then there is his infectious laugh. He loves to laugh. He loves to tell jokes and tell puns. And he is good at it!

I also learned firsthand how bright this young little boy is. He is very inquisitive. He asked me how they made glass. He asked me how clouds were formed. He asked me how wood was made. He asked detailed questions about how a car is assembled. He was intrigued that my job entailed working with superheroes and cartoon characters. He thought that was amazing!

They call him the Great Defender

Equalizing the spread

I enjoyed watching Rockwell and his basketball and baseball practices. He really does have some good basketball skills, but, he is also a seven-year-old with the attention span of a seven-year-old. I watched him in right field at baseball practice as he threw his glove in the air, sat on the ground, talked to friends, and had no idea that he was on a baseball field waiting for a ball to be hit to him. Makes me chuckle! However, I am sure that as he gets older he will learn to focus and will do well.

His favorite thing to take in his lunch? A peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. No jelly please.

Rockwell’s Favorite Lunch? – Peanut Butter and Nutella

The usual faire — Chicken Nuggets or Chicken Fingers for dinner

Speaking of food, these boys are Notorious. They are notorious for eating chicken nuggets and chicken fingers, practically at every meal! If it’s green, they will most likely not eat it. Unless it’s Jell-O. If it’s orange and long and looks like a carrot, chances are, they will most likely not eat it. Even bribery of ice cream could not get them over that hump. They would, however, occasionally indulge in pizza.

Chicken Nuggets went down. Broccoli and carrots did not

We went out quite a bit because the schedule was so hectic. It’s not easy to work full-time and take care of all of the household and the kids and still have any energy to do anything. But, I did cook a couple of times. In fact, I made macaroni and cheese for the first time in probably 15 years. It was a good macaroni and cheese too because I added a lot of extra cheese to it. The boys downed that, but they had to have chicken nuggets with it! One morning, after Rockwell had already left for school, I made some scrambled eggs and fed them to Sammy. He devoured them! That surprised me.

Sammy down Grampz’ special scrambled eggs with cheeze

Oh yeah … Llama Llama on Netflix

Other things that happened during the course of this two weeks included watching lots of TV shows on Netflix that are for ages 2 to 7. I know all about the show Llama Llama now. I think I have seen every LEGO related action cartoon too. And yes, I have learned quite a bit about How to Train a Dragon.

I wondered if during the first week after Seth and Holly returned if they will hear little Sammy call out from his crib in the morning “Grampz. I am awake.”

Almost every time that I asked Sammy to get his shoes to get ready to go, he would bring his shoes, I would put them on and then he would run to go get my shoes and say “Grampz shoes?“ Such a cutie!

Putting the boys to bed (as seen from the “spy cam”

Smiley, Texas

One of the days I was here, I took the boys on a little mini road trip because I wanted to go see the town of Smiley, Texas. Every time I mentioned that to Rockwell he would laugh and chuckle. He was so excited to go see the town of Smiley. Unfortunately, the town of Smiley is really a boring and a not so “smiley“ little place. Heck, the Smiley water tower does not even have a smiley face on it, it just says Smiley on it. The only smiley water tower I ever saw without a smiley on it. But, we did get to see a smiley water tower that same day and the glee and joy on Rockwell‘s face was something to behold. He thought that was so funny until I saw the second one and then he was even more gleeful.

Rockwell with a true Smiley Water Tower

Playing with giant squirrels – teaching the the delights of roadtripping

In the end, I don’t believe that I have ever spent two weeks along with two children in my entire life. Many times I spent and a few days with each of my children are all of my children, especially when my wife had a new baby or something like that. But I had breaks as I was able to go to work at the office and we paid a babysitter to take care of kids. I had no paid babysitter in Houston, and I had relatively little time to myself. All of my conversations have been child conversations and very few opportunities for adult conversation. It was a pretty interesting two weeks.

Do I regret going down to Houston and doing this for my children? Absolutely not! Not for one friggin’ minute! Was I crazy to do this? I would pretty much say “yes indeed.“ Will my two grandsons soon forget about this? I don’t think so. I think they had an amazing time with their grandfather and I’m grateful that I was able to provide that for them.

Pancakes for dinner

I will look back on this two weeks with fondness. I love my two grandsons.

Love these grandsons

 

It Was 40 Years Ago Today – Feb. 7, 1978

One of the last days of my LDS mission. This was taken in a field near Mt. Fuji, in Fuji City, in early February 1978.

Forty years ago today…Feb. 7, 1978, I returned from serving two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I spent 22 months serving in the Japan Nagoya Mission, more specifically in the cities of Kanazawa, Nagoya, Fukui, Takaoka, Ogaki and Fuji.  It was an amazing time for me and it was kind of strange returning back to the United States.

I joined the LDS Church at age 18 in Murray, UT and was baptized in January 1975.  Less than a year later, after a tough decision for me, I had determined to serve as a missionary.  Heading to Japan was like heading into an unknown abyss for me.  I was still learning about the gospel and was heading to a country with a strange language and many strange religions to preach that same gospel to the wonderful people of Japan.

Hanging with my two LTM Companions, Elder White and Elder Simons, ca Feb. 18, 1976

My Passport Picture in 1976

I spent the first two months of my mission in Provo, UT at what was then called the Language Training Mission (LTM).  Fortunately for me, one of my companions was Elder Marc White, who I knew from Murray High School.  It was comforting to have a familiar face around.  I later got to serve with Marc in Fukui, Japan.

After learning some of the basics of Japanese, we were on our way to Japan.  I remember that first day so well…just like it was yesterday.  We arrived to a sea of black heads…I stood out way above all of these people.

It was extremely humid and there were strange smells.   That night we got to enjoy a snack of “orange cream pan,” Japanese bread filled with a sweet orange-flavored cream.

This was the group I entered the LTM with. We all flew to Nagoya together.

This was the welcome group once we arrived in Nagoya.  To the left is Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife.

My first Japan companion was Elder Fullmer in Kanazawa.

My first assigned area was Kanazawa, on the Japan sea side.  This part of Japan was very staunch and traditional Buddhist.  We not only taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it was also a new concept to many of these people…and many of them had never spoken to an American in person either.

That said, Kanazawa was (and still is) a beautiful city.  Famed nationally for it’s Ken-Roku Park and other places, it was a wonderful place to get initiated into Japan.  So much better than the huge city of Nagoya!!

While in Kanazawa, I saw the massive Buddhist temples and other religious structures.  I experienced train rides for the first time.  We rode bikes everywhere.  We ate strange food.  And I learned the Hokuriku dialect of Japanese…kind of difficult to understand.  It was an amazing time.

Big Buddhist temple in Kanazawa, 1976.

Riding a train in Japan

A Buddhist shrine in 1976

In Nagoya Station – October 1976

After three months in Kanazawa, I was next on my way to the massive city of Nagoya, which, at the time, was the third largest city in Japan.  We rode subways everywhere. Got to see the lovely Nagoya Castle.  I ate ramen from street vendors.  But Nagoya was short lived.

I was soon transferred back to Hokuriku to the city of Fukui.  This was the home of the famous Eiheiji Temple, a Buddhist monastery where monks were trained in the strict ways of Buddhism.

By the time I got to Fukui, I was much more comfortable with the language and was really learning to enjoy my time…until winter hit!  Fukui got massive snow while I was there in the early months of winter 1977.

Standing in the snow in front of the church in Fukui in January 1977. The snow is the actual depth of the snowfall.

Japan Sea Sunset in Fukui

Toori Gates in Fukui, 1977

After Fukui (for about 5 months), I remained in Hokuriku, heading north to Toyama Prefecture and the town of Takaoka.  I was there as well for about 5 months.  From Takaoka, near the Japan Alps, I was transferred to Ogaki, a farming area near Gifu.

In front of my apartment in Ogaki, Aug 1, 1977

Visited a place that made Paper Umbrellas (Kasa)

Gifu Castle, autumn 1977

Finally, my last place was Fuji.  My language was good and had a great fun companion in Elder Richan (who, sadly, passed away a couple of years ago).

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

Mt. Fuji was a beautiful sight every morning

Staying on top in Fuji

And then it was finally heading back to the States where I was met at the airport by my best friend Jonathan Jensen.  It was a wonderful 2 years.

Little did I know the impact this two years would have on my life.  Since returning, I have spent many years doing work related to Japan and Japanese. Eventually, I returned to Japan with my family to work in Japan from 1987 to 1991.

So, I celebrate today…40 year anniversary of returning from a massive life changing experience that I will always be grateful for.

Here are just a few more pics.

Having fun with Japanese pop music and recording as a DJ in Ogaki.

Writing in Kanji in a kimono…to draw interest in the church.

It was always hot and humid in Japan

Writing in my journal…I loved writing….I still do

Being Santa Claus every Christmas was a fun event

Santa to the Grandmas

Hanging around in Nagoya with Elder Valentine

Doing a program in Nagoya in 1976

Sitting by Mt. Fuji in February 1978

My first selfie…at a barber shop in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I took this with my own camera into a mirror.

Time to wake up. No central heating on cold mornings made it tough to climb out from under the blankets.

Something fishy in Nagoya

Turning 60 – A look back at the celebration

milestoneBack in October I celebrated my 60th birthday (Oct 4, 2016). The celebration actually started before then as all of my children had appeared and a giant party was set up on the Sunday before my birthday (Oct. 2, 2016). It seems like since that Thursday before my birthday party there had been some sort of celebrating and this had been the birthday that continued to give.
bdcake2Last year as I hit my 59th birthday, I decided to try (and did not succeed very well) to express daily gratitude for my blessings. I tried to pick out a theme every day and I did not do very well in this effort as life got very busy. One can never really plan for the future as the day-to-day events of our lives seem to dictate things and sometimes those things are unpredictable.

Despite my failure to succeed in my daily gratitude postings, I was definitely grateful for every day of life that I’d had and continue to be so to this day. But the last three weeks of my life I have been full of joy, sorrow and challenges. As I was originally writing this in late October (school teaching and other things made life way too busy to write), my father Joe Kravetz, who I grew up with, but is not my natural father, was on his deathbed at a hospice in Texas. My

Joe Kravetz as he was in the 1950s. Also in this photo is his gravemarker. He was buried in the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery.

sister Sherry stridently took care of him. He was not able to eat or drink and all was being done to keep him comfortable.  As I originally wrote this on October 25, he was still clinging to life after 12 days in hospice care without food or water. Somehow he kept hanging on.  However, on the next day, October 26, 2016, Joe Kravetz finally succumbed and passed away. (I will have a different post just about him at a later time).

Another one of my friends had a very serious motorcycle accident and it could’ve killed him. He has had to go through a number of surgeries and facial reconstruction. But he seems to be recovering by all indications (thank you Facebook). I saw a video of him today and he is able to walk again, but with assistance.  The accident appears to have been devastating. Fortunately, as I write this in December, he is back home and is already beginning to walk again.
These things break my heart and had been the downside of what had otherwise been an amazing three weeks.
So, the birthday shindig really started on September 29. Julianne decided to take a half-day off to help prepare for my Sunday birthday party with Marissa and Chelsea, my two daughters that live here in Lexington. Chelsea was supposed to pick Julianne up at the University and the car showed up to pick her up. As she walked out to the car, Marissa was there as well, with a video camera running live as the driver of Chelsea’s car was not Chelsea, but was our daughter Amaree who had surprisingly flown in from Washington State to surprise us!! Marissa caught it all on video and it was precious.

Flamingle!!

They then proceeded to come over to meet me because I was supposed to go to lunch with them, but I was tied up on some projects for my Japanese class that I was teaching at the University of Kentucky. So I went down to give Julianne the debit card so she could go to lunch with Chelsea and Marissa. I was expecting them to come in Marissa’s van and so as Marissa pulled up she got out of the van and had her iPhone in hand as if she was trying to video me and I didn’t think much of it because she does that a lot.

Got to hang with grandson Benson from Washington.

Turned out that Chelsea’s car was in front of the van.  I saw Julianne sitting in the passenger seat, so I walked over to give her the card and waved at who I thought was Chelsea and then started to walk away. Then I heard “hi daddy.” This was not Chelsea’s voice and it was a voice that I knew well. I peaked back in and did a double take!! There in the driver’s seat was my oldest daughter Amaree! My grandson Benson was also in the car. I was happily stunned!

At that point, I felt bad that I was not going to be able to join them for lunch but I really had work that had to be done. So off they went.  Needless to say, I was excited that my daughter Amaree would take the time to come out to Kentucky to celebrate my 60th birthday. She had flown in the night before and stayed at Chelsea’s house.
So that night, she came over and stayed with us. It was so wonderful to be able to spend time with her and to sit with my grandson Benson and read some books to him. Marissa also came over and they started making preparations for my birthday party which had been named ironically “Flamingle.”

The Chipotle Gang when we picked up our catered meals

This was not going to be a surprise party as we kind of expected to have some sort of celebration. For the previous three months Julianne and I had been going to Chipotle Mexican Grill for meals about 11 times a month so that we could land ourselves free catering for 20 in their summer 2016 Chiptopia promotion. Both of us succeeded at this and so we knew that we would be catered for 40 people with food from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

I also knew that the date of the party was going to be October 2 but I had no idea what else was going to go on.

Setting up flamingos

They had been secretly planning a number of things and with the theme being around flamingos there were flamingo things going on. Marissa had printed out dozens and dozens of photographs of me that she had painstakingly gleaned from Facebook. I don’t know why she couldn’t have just come and taken them off of my hard drive, but that’s OK. All of these pictures were pasted all over a couple of walls in the house and they covered all the way back from my early years of life to my 60th year. It was a fun gesture and also fun to look back on my life in these snapshots.

Flamingos everywhere

Julianne had picked up some plywood and had made some 5 foot tall flamingos which were painted pink and then had the word “Flamingle” painted on them along with an arrow pointing in the direction of the house. These would be directional signs to the house.

On that Friday evening as I read books to the kids, they were busily engaged in working in all of these projects. I was getting excited for the fun that would ensue and had heartfelt gratitude for the love and effort they had in this celebration of my life.

Reading books to the Grandkidz

Hanging with daughter Amaree who came from Washington to surprise me

As there were things that still needed to be done on Saturday morning, and as everyone was all busily engaged, I decided I would go out and run the errands for them to pick up things such as marshmallows and other stuff that they had planned for the party. Our granddaughter Autumn was to be picked up as well, so I headed over to get her. While I was out, Amaree called and kept asking when my ETA was to return home and I said I’m still tied up on picking up things. She said that I should just pick up Autumn and come home and that she would go run the errands with me. So I did that and I got home and dropped Autumn off in the driveway. I told her to send Amaree out.

While waiting in the driveway for Amaree, she called me and said “come in the house Daddy. We have some breakfast and then we’ll go.” So I went in and they had made a nice breakfast of eggs in the nest using pastry rather than bread. It was a nice breakfast.

Seth snuck into our hot tub and surprised us.

While eating, Amaree said “Look! I just got a funny Facebook message from Seth!” She then proceeded to show Julianne and me a photo of our son Seth sitting in our hot tub. Naturally, we thought this was an old picture of Seth being used as a surprise, but on a closer look we realized that Seth was ACTUALLY sitting in our hot tub at that particular point in time and Julianne went running out to the deck and look down and kind of yelled a little scream of delight and her funny laugh. I too was pleasantly surprised. Seth apparently rented a vehicle and parked down the street and then walked quietly around in and snuck into the hot tub. He told us that he had been transported via hot tub to get to our house. Ha ha!!

One of two Photo Walls set up b the kids. What fun these were!

So, at this point, two of my children had come from out of town. Seth had come up from Houston. He spent some time with us in the morning and then said he had to go to Georgetown to spend some time with his in-laws, but that he would return to our house later on. Because he had hotel points, he was staying in a hotel rather than at our house.

We proceeded to get all of the other things ready for the party and it was another late evening on Saturday. Around 9 PM I was asking if Seth was coming back as I thought he was and I was just excited to talk to my son.
He had been out shopping and purchased a giant beef brisket to put on the grill for the birthday dinner on Monday evening.
So, Seth finally did show up around 9 o’clock PM and we sat and talked and just had a nice little time. I had really thought maybe Solomon would walk in with him, but I was disappointed that my other son from Colorado Springs did not happen to be there with us.

Hanging with the boys…Seth and Solomon, both of whom showed up to surprise me (and Julianne!)

But, lo and behold, about 15 minutes later, we hear our front door open and peek over and Solomon walks in the door. Everybody gasped and was excited. Of course, my daughters all knew but Julianne and I did not.

For the first time in four years all of my children were together with with us and this was such a joy.
So, Solomon and Seth returned to the hotel later that evening after we sat and talked and had a few snacks and then we prepared ourselves for the big event on Sunday.
Since this was LDS General Conference Sunday for our church, there was no church at the building and the girls all listened to General Conference while they prepped for the ensuing party.
We had a lot of errands to run and ultimately I had to go to Chipotle and pick up all of our catered food. They were expecting us obviously because we had been telling them what we were going to do. It was fun. We got all of the goods and I took a big group picture with all the Chipotle gang that were there. I then headed back home with all the food as they set up everything else in the house.

Next door neighbor Mike LeMaster taking a selfie at the party

The time finally came in the late afternoon when the party was to begin. People began to trickle in little by little including our neighbors Mike and Lauren and Steve and Chris. Steve had worked really hard to help in our yard cleaning up the yard and is an amazing neighbor.

The first person to actually arrive was my old boss from iHigh, Tim Campbell. That was an amazing surprise to me. It was nice to see him and have a nice chat with him. I do some work for him and his new business lately,  but I haven’t actually visited with him for a long time.

Julianne in her self designed flamingo shirt

There were many friends from church that showed up and Stacey Edwards, who I worked with at BrainBox the last couple of years also came by. She was always like a little sister to me and I really always enjoyed working with her.

Birthday Cake with sixty little plastic flamingos. CLASSIC!!

At the party, we had all that food.  And Amaree had made four cakes and Chelsea had also made a chocolate Flan cake. So we had five cakes and lots of other goodies at the party. Of course the main cake of interest was the German chocolate cake with the amazing homemade German chocolate coconut frosting that Amaree made.

They finally got around to having me come over and sit by the German Chocolate Cake.  It had been decorated with 60 little flamingo toothpicks and then a six and a zero candle that was lit up. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and I blew out the candles.
I was next presented with some gifts. This was where the real shock took place. Julianne had quizzed me and had known for quite a while that my Nikon camera had broken and also kept questioning me as to whether or not I wanted a bicycle. I thought maybe they would come up with one of those things for my birthday, but really had no idea….

Picking up the bike on October 14

What really happened was the shocker. Marissa had gone to the point of group funding and had raised enough to get me a camera. I was able to get a new Nikon D5200 with a gift card that they had provided me for money raised for many of my family and friends. The other big stone to me was that my friend Russ Graves, from high school in Murray, UT had gotten together with some of the others that I went to church with in Murray in the 1970s. They all collected money and had purchased me a brand-new bicycle! It had been ordered and arrived on October 14..

Brand new Birthday Camera – a Nikon D5200.

A few neighbors and others had brought a few other little gifts and the kids had given me a big old box that had a bicycle bell and a couple of other bike things in it. It was really an amazing and fun birthday for me and just the event and love itself and made this the best birthday for me in all of my 60 years.

All in the Family…family photo on my 60th Birthday (L-R: Marissa, Solomon, Chelsea, David, Julianne, Seth and Amaree)

My fun family!

But alas, after Sunday was over it was back to work at University of Kentucky for me on Monday. Julianne was able to take some time off so she could spend time with Amaree. But, we did take time in the morning and went to the Lexington Arboretum to take some family pictures of the five children and of the five children with us, etc. That was a joyous time to be able to be with her children and get some wonderful photos with them after four years of not being together.

My sweet wife smiles with me on my 60th birthdaycelebration

So, part two of all of the birthday celebration was my taking the gift card and searching to find a replacement for my Nikon D 40. I had been brokenhearted because I had not had a camera for almost a month other than my iPhone, which takes great pictures, but still having my Nikon with my telephoto lens was always a wonderful thing. And, I enjoy going to the lake and taking pictures.

Ready to get some photos with my new D5200

I ultimately found the D5200 on Amazon.com and ordered it and received notification that it would arrive probably on that Friday. But it actually arrived two days later and I was so excited to have a new camera to be able to take it out on Friday morning and go to the lake and take some pictures. Those that know me also know that I am very fond of bird photos, especially blue herons. Following are a couple of photos taken with my new Nikon in October.

Photo of me with my new camera courtesy of fellow photographer Earlane Cox

A rare shot of the elusive Bald Eagle of Jacobson Lake. Taken with a zoom in bright light, I had to manipulate it a bit. It was my first sighting of this beauty.

A blue heron landing. Once again, I used some software to highlight the beauty of this bird

In mid-October there were egrets visiting the lake. I got this shot of one of them. Very happy

Finally, an interesting shot of a blue heron chasing an egret

Taking Solomon to the Cincinnati Airport

During the time family was in town, we had family dinners on Monday and Tuesday evening until Amaree left on Wednesday and Seth left on Tuesday evening. Solomon hung around until Friday so I took him to the airport on Friday morning.

Despite the children all gone by this time, the gifts keep on giving. Later in October I went with Julianne and Marissa to SW Virginia where we were to meet Julianne’s sister Laura and her daughter Emma. They were going to ride the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail.

Heading up the trail. Notice I had my Nikon around my neck as well.

Just in case, we took my bike as well.  I had only ridden it about a mile or two previously, and we weren’t sure if I would be able to.  But ultimately, while waiting for them down the hill from the start, I decided to give it a try and rode UPHILL for nearly 3 miles to meet them on the trail and then come back down the hill with them. It was fun to see the surprised look on Julianne’s face when she saw me sitting at a table waiting for them!

The biking gang somewhere on the Virginia Creeper Trail. My first REAL bike ride.

Not only did I use the bike, but also my new Nikon as I took photos along the way. It was a lovely time of year.

It has been more than two months since my birthday and I still have man fond memories. My life is filled with joy and there are the many precious moments I have had in this 60 years.  And it just keeps going.  Watch my blogs for more photos and more bike stories…and more grandkidz selfies and family stories.  Life is Awesome but its getting better.

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: #234 – 40th Anniversary of LDS Mission

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

There are some events in one’s life that are turning points…big decisions that impact the remainder of one’s life.  Today I celebrate the 40th Anniversary of one of those events.  It was 40 years ago today that I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) in Provo, Utah to learn Japanese and prepare to serve as an LDS Missionary in the Japan Nagoya Mission. This singular event would literally have a myriad impacts on the direction of my life, the life of my wife and of my children.

Prior to this event only three real others were as momentous…my mother taking me away from my father and moving to New Mexico (something that I had no control over but had a massive impact on my life), my decision to convert to the LDS Church in 1975 (and thus be asked to leave the house at age 17 as a result) and then the actual decision to serve versus the decision to take what would have been a high paying job in 1975.

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT - Feb. 8, 1976

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT – Feb. 8, 1976

Pondering life's choices as a young missionary

Pondering life’s choices as a young missionary

With each decision made at a crossroads in life (or a fork in the road of life if you prefer), a whole string of consequences unseen is set in motion (until the next crossroad, which then again leads to another set of unforeseen life events). But this mission to serve the Lord in Japan (not to mention all of the service to the Japanese people) had a profound impact on my life, my testimony, friends I have made and, ultimately my career choices. And, as I approach my 60th of year of life, I can look back and consider all of the things that WOULD NOT have occurred in my life had I not made that one decision. Honestly, I am awestruck.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries and dozens of letters home to family and friends.

So, on February 12, 1976 I was taken to Provo and it began.  I wrote on Page 1 of the first of my many journals about this event:

“Today was my first day.  It was really great. We had many inspiring talks and learned much about the mission and mission fields.  Elder Stewart Simons from Cyprus High and Elder Marc White from Murray were my fist companions. Elder Marc and I went to school together, so its a real blessing. Its been a tough, long, hot day, but a very meaningful one.I’m so grateful to serve the Lord.”

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

I learned from both Elder Simons and Elder White.  It was nice to have one of them as someone I knew.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  Later on in Japan, Elder White became my zone leader and we grew very close.  We have stayed in touch casually over the years.  He was a real blessing to me.

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT (L-R: Sister ?, Elder Bartholomew, Elder Bateman, Elder White, Elder Call, Elder Hadley, Elder Simons, Sister Hawley and me)

I was one of many in the group to enter the LTM that day.  The LTM was in an old Catholic School in Provo that the Church had purchased.  This was before the days of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and just shortly after the days of the Japanese LTM being in Hawaii.

In my District I had four other Elders including Elder Bartholomew from Rancho Palace Verdes, CA; Elder Bateman from Edmonton, AB; Elder Hadley from Sandy, UT (who I am still in contact with after all these years); and Elder Call from Heber City, UT. (see the photo above)

On February 14, 1976 I wrote: “I am so happy that I’m here at this time to be able to work together with other elders and learn Japanese and the Gospel of our loving Father. The LTM is really an experience with 20 elders to a room, two districts to a room. I am really learning to love other elders. Especially those in my district and especially Elder White and Elder Simons. I’ve learned many new phrases and words.  Today we learned our testimony and a simple prayer.  I’m trying to memorize it, but its hard. I do have my testimony memorized.  I am praying muchly now so that I may be closer to the Lord.”

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

I could go on and on about the experience in the LTM.  It was a learning experience in so many ways. But, eventually it was over and on April 13, 1976 we all left for Nagoya, Japan.  I had never been on a 747 and never flown overseas. (I’ll actually write more about this on my Countdown Day #173).

During my missionary days I served in the Japan Sea side towns of Kanazawa, Fukui and Takaoka, as well as in Ogaki (near Gifu – where my daughter Amaree served part of her mission in 2001 and 2002), Nagoya and the lovely town of Fuji City at the base of Mt. Fuji.

I met an extraordinary number of wonderful Japanese Latter-day Saints and myriads of other lovely Japanese people.  I learned about Buddhism and Shintoism.  I learned and excelled at the language.  It was a wonderful experience.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Following are a few more photos from my mission.  I have hundreds. My first “selfie” is also included. My mission was a blessing in my life in so many years.  I am humbled and grateful to be celebrating the 40th Anniversary of beginning this amazing adventure and am really touched by all of the sweet memories flowing through my mind as I reflect back.

A few years ago we had a Missionary Reunion in Salt Lake City and I was able to catch up with many of those with whom I served during my two years from 1976-78.  It was wonderful to catch up with them and see where their lives had taken them. Some have been very successful, others not so much.  Some of those with whom I served have gone inactive or even left the LDS Church.  These things happen.  But, I cherish the friendships and, even today, stay in touch with many of these former missionaries (Thank you Facebook!!), even those that are no longer associated with the church.  A mission does amazing things to one’s life.

Always writing and pondering.

Always writing and pondering. Ogaki, Japan 1977

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976 (Dig those 70’s era neckties!!)

Riding a train - an almost daily occurrence in Japan

Riding a train – an almost daily occurrence in Japan

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters - just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters – just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

Street "Dendo" (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

Street “Dendo” (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends over the years. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

 

2015 In Review: People, Friends, Family and More

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

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

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

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

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

With newly minted son-in-law Jorge Mendez

With newly minted son-in-law Jorge Mendez

Hanging with daughter Marissa on one of our trips in 2015

Hanging with daughter Marissa on one of our trips in 2015

Smile Man in Seattle

Smile Man in Seattle

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

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

Sumoflam with Rob Roy in 2015

Sumoflam with Rob Roy in 2015

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

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

Pete Huttlinger

Pete Huttlinger

With pal Kevin Twitchell at Woodflock 2015

With pal Kevin Twitchell at Woodflock 2015

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

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

Hanging with good friend Bruce Wandmayer

Hanging with good friend Bruce Wandmayer

With Carla and Ione in Santa Rosa, CA

With Carla and Ione in Santa Rosa, CA

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

Carla and Ione give old Sumoflam a kiss at Woodflock 2015

Carla and Ione give old Sumoflam a kiss at Woodflock 2015

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

With Jacque and James Ferreira

With Jacque and James Ferreira

Good friend and official "teaser of Sumoflam" Kathy Aspinwall

Good friend and official “teaser of Sumoflam” Kathy Aspinwall

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

Men with Hats…my pal from Cal…Ed Townsend

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

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

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

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

Woodflock

Woodflock 2015

With Johnny Mac at Sundance Resort in Utah

With Johnny Mac at Sundance Resort in Utah

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

With high school friend Jonathan Jensen at Sundance

With high school friend Jonathan Jensen at Sundance

With high school friend Russ Graves in Murray, UT

With high school friend Russ Graves in Murray, UT

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

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

schmoozing with my pal Joe Seebold at Valvoline

Schmoozing with my pal Joe Seebold at Valvoline

 

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

 

Sumoflam with Asian Bistro's JJ Chen

Sumoflam with Asian Bistro’s JJ Chen

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Alex and his Ukranian friends at Fat Smitty's

Alex and his Ukranian friends at Fat Smitty’s

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

Meeting Nelson Campbell, Director of Plant Pure Nation

Meeting Nelson Campbell, Director of Plant Pure Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sumoflam with Santa Claus in Santa Claus, IN

Sumoflam with Santa Claus in Santa Claus, IN

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

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

Meeting with Solar Guru john Schaeffer

Meeting with Solar Guru john Schaeffer

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

Julianne and I with Tregoney on the Wicked set in Louisville

Julianne and I with Tregoney on the Wicked set in Louisville

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

IN MEMORIUM 2015

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

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

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

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

Jamie Showkeir was my brother-in-law and mentor and was a down to earth solidly wonderful individual.  I wrote about him on his passing (see my post). He passed away after a year long struggle with the devastating disease known as ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  He knew from the outset that his days were numbered.  But he chose to deal with it rather than to let it deal with him. Jamie left a positive impact on 100s of people, including me.  He was a mentor to me (and he didn’t even know it!) Three or four times I called him for advice due to his wisdom of the business world. (He and his wife Maren, my wife’s sister, had authored two books).  I miss Jamie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2015 In Review: The Photos

Taking a selfie in San Francisco

Taking a selfie in San Francisco – photo by Carla Lockwood

Over the year 2015 I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to both coasts and a few other places.  I also made a few trips to local areas to score some “joy points.”  With camera in hand I took 1000s of photos and following are some of my favorites from the year, with a brief story behind each photo.

Among the 1000s of photos are selfies, family shots, friends, scenery, wall art, nature and an abundance of other photos.  I will not include selfies in this collection as I do a separate post on selfies and the fun I have with those.  Rather, this post is a collection of my favorites (and in some cases there are some viewer favorites as well).

Top Ten Photos from 2015

#1 – Horses Grazing in Fall Colors – This photo was probably the hit of the year.  I posted this and a few others on November 3 in a Photo Gallery on Facebook (see original post here) and it had over 3000 shares.  This photo was taken on a drive back from Louisville.  I decided to take Old Frankfort Pike, which is one of the Bluegrass Area’s most famed back road drives.  When I saw this variety of horses, I checked my rearview mirror and saw there was no traffic coming.  I stopped on the road, opened the car window and took this shot, hoping it would come out.

DSC_7323#2 – Seagull Eye – We visited our daughter and her children in Port Orchard, WA in late July and early August.  On one of the days we took a ferry across the Puget Sound into Seattle.  While on the boat, some folks were feeding the seagulls and I was able to grab some nice shots.  This one, in my opinion, was a doozie.  I took this with my telephoto lens, so I was able to get very close.

DSC_4713#3 – Fog Over Golden Gate Bridge – During the Memorial Day weekend I had the unique opportunity to attend Woodflock, a music/camping adventure sponsored by singer/songwriter/poet/storyteller/artist Antsy McClain.  It has been held for 6 years in a row in at a campground in Red Bluff, CA. I flew out there and was picked up by Carla Lockwood, who was kind enough to be my host for a couple of days and take me up to Red Bluff from San Francisco.  Along the way, we stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge for a spectacular view of the bridge and also of San Francisco across the bay.

GGB3#4 – Geese in Flight at Sunrise – I make numerous visits to Jacobson Lake in Lexington.  It is my “Joy Point Factory” as I can go on an early morning, catch a sunrise, look at the birds and just relax from the cares of the world.  On one glorious sunrise morning, I caught this flock of geese taking off.  I have many photos of geese in flight, but this one was different as the sunlight glowed through the translucent wingtips of the birds.  It was a lucky catch.

11092932_10153214958117090_2091834428_n#5 – Sunrise on Old Orchard Beach – In September we made a visit to my son Seth and his family on the occasion of the birth of our 10th grandchild.  My daughter Marissa and her children accompanied us on this trip and, during the visit, we ventured on a two day trip to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.  We spent the night at Old Orchard Beach, south of Portland, ME and I got up early in hopes of catching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.  Needless to say, I was not disappointed.  I capture over 50 shots of this amazing morning, but this one was the best of the lot. This was not filtered…it is exactly as it looked that morning.

11995710_10153603290737090_1419687584_n#6 – Raindrops on Lilacs – We have a huge lilac bush that grows on the side of our house next to our deck.  In the spring it is a wonderful sight to behold.  One morning it had rained early and I went out on the deck and noticed droplets still remaining on the flowers.  I was able to capture the simple beauty as well as the miniature reflection in the raindrop.

11196383_10153263423727090_2061527146_o#7 – Blue Heron in the Morning – I have noted many times on my blogs that I have a fascination with blue herons. When I make my frequent trips to Jacobson Lake, I am always on the lookout.  One morning, while driving close by the lake, there was a heron on the side of the road standing in low water.  These are nervous birds and they typically take off.  But, this one sat there.  I rolled down the car window and was able to capture the closeup beauty of this magnificent bird.  He/she was literally only 7 feet away from me and didn’t take off until it got aggravated by me sitting there for five minutes enjoying its beauty.  I scored extra joy points that day!

10994847_10153404063257090_292100981_n#8 – Sunbeams Over Lexington – During 2015 I did a good deal of work in downtown Lexington.  One morning as I parked in the Victorian Square parking structure, I saw a glorious sunburst floating over Rupp Arena.  I took a few shots and was fortunate to capture one that really represented it well.

11950915_10153590934167090_485412227_n#9 – Sunrise at Jacobson Lake – I made 20 or 30 visits to Jacobson Lake during the year.  Some mornings were not as vivid, but brought me the relaxation I desired.  But there were the rare morning where the clouds and sunrise were phenomenal.  November had two or three of these.  The sunrise captured below was taken on the morning before Thanksgiving.

11127911_10153214956827090_804448474_n#10 – Full Moon – 2015 seemed to offer some amazing full moons, more than I can recall (perhaps we had more clear skies this year!) I had a couple of opportunities to snap some great full moon shots.  This one was probably my best one, taken in the summer.

11094336_10153213995982090_1718367189_oHONORABLE MENTION

Of course, only 10 photos really does no justice for the year as there were many more good ones.  Following are quite a few others that I would like to share. Just a title and the photo.

Sunset over Mt. Rainier as seen from the Puget Sound

Sunset over Mt. Rainier as seen from the Puget Sound

A flower photographed at Tacoma Zoo

A flower photographed at Tacoma Zoo

Turtle Family - Jacobson Lake, Lexingotn

Turtle Family – Jacobson Lake, Lexington

A time lapse of Lunar Eclipse in November

A time lapse of Lunar Eclipse in November

Different textures on a flower

Different textures on a flower

Sunrise on Ice...sun glow through icicles on back deck in February

Sunrise on Ice…sun glow through icicles on back deck in February

A field of tulips at the Kentucky Arboretum near University of Kentucky

A field of tulips at the Kentucky Arboretum near University of Kentucky

Clouds with a unique texture taken in March in Lexington

Clouds with a unique texture taken in March in Lexington

Sunrise as seen from downtown Lexington

Sunrise as seen from downtown Lexington

Geese in formation flying over Lexington in November

Geese in formation flying over Lexington in November

Moon glows over a winter tree in January near Versailles, KY

Moon glows over a winter tree in January near Versailles, KY

Leaping Squirrel

Leaping Squirrel

Golden Gate Bridge in May

Golden Gate Bridge in May

Fall colors in Horse Farm Country

Fall colors in Horse Farm Country

Russian Thistle taken at Sundance Resort in Utah in June

Russian Thistle taken at Sundance Resort in Utah in June

A squirrel readies a nut for his food storage

A squirrel readies a nut for his food storage

Sunrise over Jacobson Lake in November

Sunrise over Jacobson Lake in November

Pink clouds tinted by the early sunrise in Lexington

Pink clouds tinted by the early sunrise in Lexington

A blue heron gracefully glides over the ice on Jacobson Lake

A blue heron gracefully glides over the ice on Jacobson Lake

February snow in Horse Farm Country

February snow in Horse Farm Country

A turkey vulture spotted in a neighborhood takes flight

A turkey vulture spotted in a neighborhood takes flight

Seagulls in flight over Puget Sound in Washington

Seagulls in flight over Puget Sound in Washington

Gazing away on a lovely autumn morning

Gazing away on a lovely autumn morning

Tacoma Narrows Bridge at sunset

Tacoma Narrows Bridge at sunset

A lilac blossom prepares to bloom

A lilac blossom prepares to bloom

Geese landing in the water at sunrise

Geese landing in the water at sunrise

Morning Dove as seen from a downtown office window in Lexington

Morning Dove as seen from a downtown office window in Lexington

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Foggy Sunrise as seen from Delong Road near Lexington

Foggy Sunrise as seen from Delong Road near Lexington

Rocky Mountains of Colorado as seen from a plane

Rocky Mountains of Colorado as seen from a plane

The eyes of a metal sculpture glow with the sunrise -- taken at Singletary Center on University of Kentucky Campus

The eyes of a metal sculpture glow with the sunrise — taken at Singletary Center on University of Kentucky Campus

Lovely clouds at sunset over Lexington

Lovely clouds at sunset over Lexington

Sunburst over Jacobson Lake

Sunburst over Jacobson Lake

Nature's Art as seen from above a tulip in bloom

Nature’s Art as seen from above a tulip in bloom

Mt. Rainier in Washington

Mt. Rainier in Washington

Countdown 365: #358 Rockwell Elias Kravetz

11811550_10206026495800285_8827539075719149780_nMy 7th Grandchild, Rockwell Elias Kravetz (RockE) for short, was born on this date in 2010.  Happy 5th Birthday RockE!!

I love and adore all 10 f my grandchildren.  Each has their own personality and style.  Rockwell is my uber-pleasant one.

Rockwell is special in that he is the first “Kravetz” of his generation in the Alexander Kravetz (my grandfather) line. His middle name is also that of Alexander’s father Elias (his great great great grandfather).  I was the first in my generation and Seth was the first in his as well.  I think it is cool that we are now 5 generations from Alexander Kravetz.

Rockwell in Sept. 2015 with his new brother Sam. (photo by Marissa Noe)

Rockwell in Sept. 2015 with his new brother Sam. (photo by Marissa Noe)

Back in 2012 all of the family was in Lexington and we were able to get a four generation photo with my stepfather Joe Kravetz, me, Seth and Rockwell.  Not many are able to get four generation photos like that, so it is really special.

A Four Generation Photo - Seth, Rockwell, me, Joe Kravetz - taken Dec 2012

A Four Generation Photo – Seth, Rockwell, me, Joe Kravetz – taken Dec 2012

Rockwell shortly after he was born in 2010

Rockwell shortly after he was born in 2010

Holding RockE on Oct. 12, 2010..he was one day old

Holding RockE on Oct. 12, 2010..he was one day old

Rockwell was the only grandchild that has actually lived in our home.  While Seth was going to UK, they lived in the upstairs section of the house, so we got to see Rockwell often, when he was young.

Honestly, that is a joy and blessing in and of itself.  It had been many years since a baby had resided in the house.  Babies bring such happiness and love into a home and Rockwell certainly did this.

 

Seth, Holly and Rockwell in Fall 2014

Seth, Holly and Rockwell in Fall 2014

Seth graduated and soon moved to Ohio for a job and then later to Connecticut.  Our opportunity to see Rockwell was lessened as a result.

Most children his age are pretty hyper, but Rockwell is even keeled, pleasant almost always and certainly friendly and good natured.

When he has visited he was never shy and was always willing to sit with Grampz for a quick book read, etc.

I really count myself blessed to have this joyful young man in my life and the life of my family.  Following are a few joyful moments and a couple of other photos of this smart, handsome and AWESOME grandchild of mine.

Three generations of Kravetz guys getting ready for the UK Wildcats to down the U of L Cardinals in 2014

Three generations of Kravetz guys getting ready for the UK Wildcats to down the U of L Cardinals in 2014

RockE and his mom and dad in Connecticut. Their future is so bright they gotta wear shades

RockE and his mom and dad in Connecticut. Their future is so bright they gotta wear shades

Hanging with Grampz in 2012

Hanging with Grampz in 2012

Rockwell in a ponderous moment

Rockwell in a ponderous moment

Hanging with Grampz at Old Orchard Beach in Maine, Sept. 2015

Hanging with Grampz at Old Orchard Beach in Maine, Sept. 2015

Future Engineer - No Doubt!

Future Engineer – No Doubt!

Hanging with Grampz and cousins in Connecticut, 2015

Hanging with Grampz and cousins in Connecticut, 2015

First day of school

First day of school

Taking god care of new little brother in Sept. 2015

Taking god care of new little brother Sam in Sept. 2015

Can you blame me for wanting to be a PROUD GRAMPZ??

Handsome boy

Handsome boy

My daughter Marissa captured some early moments of his life in this great video, which I thought I would share here.