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

Powerball Frenzy: Dopamine Dreaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS THE DOPAMINE THING?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But only this time….

Countdown 365: #310 – Wicked, The Musical

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

Ticket and Program for Wicked

Ticket and Program for Wicked

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

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

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

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

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

Tregoney Shepherd as Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables

Tregoney Shepherd as Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stage scene from Wicked of the witches Glinda and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage shot with Tregoney, Julianne, Marissa and Adam

Stage shot with Tregoney, Julianne, Marissa and Adam

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

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

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

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

Countdown 365: #336 – Joselyn Love Noe – Grandchild #4

Joselyn5Today is my granddaughter Joselyn’s 8th birthday.  She is my 4th grandchild.  In a few days she will be baptized into the church and enjoy the blessings that will come with that.

But Joselyn is also a blessing to me.  For eight years I have been able to enjoy her presence and her presents…her gifts of joy, love, happiness, curiosity and goofiness.  Since she lives in Lexington, I get to spend a great deal of time with her and her brother and sister. How much fun is that?

Joselyn is the oldest child of my second Joselyn2daughter Marissa and her husband Adam.  She came into a family filled with love and that became her middle name as well. And she exudes the middle name as she shows love to all around her and to the world she lives in.

I get great joy and happiness with her on park excursions as I watch her look at the world around her with great curiosity.

I smile when I think of the way she makes the world her stage as she dances and prances.

11994126_10153597866027090_111569480_oJoselyn also loves being on the beaches of lakes and oceans.  She seems attracted to the beautiful surroundings around her. She loves nature whether it be leaves and plants, insects and butterflies or the sands on the beach.

Joselyn is a joy.

 

Joselyn4

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IMG_2063Of all of my grandchildren, Joselyn is likely the most well traveled.  In fact, she is practically my “travel buddy.”

In her short eight years of life, she has traveled to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, Canada, Maine, Georgia and many states in between.  Many of these trips have been with me and she is a GREAT traveler.

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, with her uncle Solomon

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, with her uncle Solomon

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri

At the "Field of Corn" in Dublin, Ohio

At the “Field of Corn” in Dublin, Ohio

The Gothic House in Eldon, IA

The Gothic House in Eldon, IA

West Virginia

West Virginia

Givong Grampz a "Hershey Kiss" in Hershey, PA

Giving Grampz a “Hershey Kiss” in Hershey, PA

On the beach in Hilton Head, SC

On the beach in Hilton Head, SC

IMG_0853Because Jos lives in town, I am able to go to the movies with her and her brother and sister and sometimes her cousin Autumn, my oldest grandchild.  These are fun affairs.  We take goofy pictures together.

We always find a way to have fun with each other on these outings.  And the kids always know that when they are with Grampz, it is always a photo opportunity.  And Grampz becomes a kid again for a little while.

And it is always that way when I am with Joselyn. Since her mother is a photographer, Jos is always in front of a camera lens. And it is really no different with Grampz.

Cuddle time with Grampz

Cuddle time with Grampz

On the road with Grampz

On the road with Grampz

Visiting Grampz at Bountiful Baskets

Visiting Grampz at Bountiful Baskets

IMG_0673Of all of my grandchildren, I think that Joselyn has proven that she can be the best “goofball.”  She is great at making faces and her expressions are priceless.

I really get a kick out of saying – “Time for a goofy picture” because I know that Joselyn will ALWAYS come through, even if the others kind of shrug it off.

Joselyn is tons of fun!

Making faces

Making faces

In Tucson, AZ

In Tucson, AZ

Making Faces - Part 2

Making Faces – Part 2

Ice Cream Nose at Chick-Fil-A

Ice Cream Nose at Chick-Fil-A

Heart Face

Heart Face

Giving Grampz long hair

Giving Grampz long hair

DSC_1975Over the years, she has grown from a baby to an infant to a wonderful young lady.

She is always serious about learning and loves everything around her. The world is her classroom and she engages with it.

I am grateful to see this beautiful person blossom like a butterfly from a cocoon. And indeed she has.

Following are a few pictures from earlier birthdays and other good times.  I love my sweet Joselyn.

She is a great blessing in my life and in the lives of all those whom she touches.

November 6, 2008

November 6, 2008

At the Cincinnati Zoo with her cousin Autumn and her cousin Savannah (my sister Sherry's daughter) in August 2009

At the Cincinnati Zoo with her cousin Autumn and her cousin Savannah (my sister Sherry’s daughter) in August 2009

Hanging with the "big girls" in August 2009

Hanging with the “big girls” in August 2009

November 14, 2009

November 14, 2009

Running - July 2009

Running – July 2009

Running - July 2011

Running – July 2011

And just a few more photos of this amazing kid!

At Ballet in the Park

At Ballet in the Park

Cave Run Lake, KY

Cave Run Lake, KY

Cuddle Bunny

Cuddle Bunny

A big helper

A big helper

Fun with a cat in 2008

Fun with a cat in 2008

Flower Child

Flower Child

Holding a butterfly

Holding a butterfly

Listening

Listening

I love Joselyn…..she is a blessing in my life

 

 

Countdown 365: #346 – Falling for Fall

DSC_7238Honestly, fall is my favorite time of year.  Maybe it is because I was born in October.  Maybe its because the temperatures are cooling down to the fifties. But, most likely it is because of the change of the season, the striking colors (at least in Kentucky) and the eye candy that the colors bring. Joy points. Nature’s soup for the soul.

Last Sunday, October 25, I took a drive in the countryside early in the morning. All of the photos on this post were taken then. So, you can get a glimpse of one day of fall.

I consider myself blessed to be living DSC_7289in Kentucky. I am thankful to live in a neighborhood that is just minutes away from the pastoral settings of the famous Overbrook and Juddmonte farms, two of Kentucky’s famed thoroughbred horse farms.

There are many scenic byways surrounding Lexington, and the Delong Road/Walnut Hill Road area is one of the best.  Just five minutes from my house I can be driving down Delong Road and witnessing the beauty of the rolling DSC_7277hills surrounded by the black plank fences of the horse farms.  Any time of year is great to get away and do this.  But fall is by far the most amazing time to do so.

The drives on these two lane roads make me slow down and visually, as well as emotionally, take it all in.  The Grand Canyon, the Tetons, Glacier National Park…all of these may be breathtaking, but the simplicity of the fall colors lining the black plank fences is just as breathtaking to me.

DSC_7287DSC_7285DSC_7267DSC_7264DSC_7259DSC_7280DSC_7279DSC_7260DSC_7297I also enjoy looking at the colorful leaves up close.  From a distance they all look the same, but, on closer inspection, each one is like a snowflake.  They each have their own hues of red, yellow, brown and orange.  They have blemishes. They are different sizes and shapes. Another great example to me of nature’s complex simplicity. I am certain that our kind Father in Heaven created this time of season for us to take time to reflect upon the richness of this earth that we live in.  Its a time to have wonder in His grand creations.

DSC_7262DSC_7246DSC_7248DSC_7305DSC_7231Then there are the little surprises.  As I drove around the back country and snapped photos, I missed a few things.  In editing and reviewing my photos before I wrote this, I notices something interesting on the tree.  On closer inspection I discovered that a little frog had photobombed my autumn leave shot.  Can you find the little critter in the photo below?  Chock up another joy point!

Notice the frog on the tree

Notice the frog on the tree

DSC_7233Even driving the neighborhoods of Lexington, I can find some great scenic beauty.

The city is blessed with a variety of trees and thus an astounding array of colors dots the neighborhoods.

Every October my excitement grows as I wait for the two big trees just a couple of blocks from our house to explode in their yellows and oranges. They are delightful.

DSC_7230FallTreesDSC_7301DSC_7303Indeed, I am grateful for fall colors.  They are a blessing to my life each year.

Countdown 365: #360 – Grandkidz Rawk

(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.)

David and Sam Sept 2015. Grandchild #10

David and Sam Sept 2015. Grandchild #10

On August 31st of this year I became a grandfather…for the 10th time! Almost one month later my oldest grandchild turned 10. What a joy.  What a blessing… or should I say “What Joys! What Blessings!”

Over the course of this countdown, each of my grandchildren will get their own special posts on their individual birthdays.  This one is the “Cumulative” post of gratitude for my grandchildren in general.

Back in January of this year I wrote about 40 years of blessings on the 40th anniversary of my baptism into the LDS Church (see post here) and noted that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would have ANY grandchildren before I turned 60…and, before I was 59 I have ten. I wonder how many more will come along over the next 2 years??

With 9 grandchildren on Christmas 2012...the last time they were all here together

With 9 grandchildren on Christmas 2012…the last time they were all here together

Making faces with my 10 year old Autumn, back in 2014

Making faces with my 10 year old Autumn, back in 2014

I love hanging with my grandkidz (yes, with a Z!!) who call me Grampz (yes, with a Z!! I’m a hip grandpa).  They are fun and I can feel like a kid again.  We go to the movies, to the park, to fast food joints.  I love to take them places.

As a grandfather, on these special Grampz and Grandkidz outings we have already developed a routine.  “What is the first thing we do when we get out of the car?” (No, its not look both ways…)

Their reply is now always…”Take a picture with Grampz.” Sometimes it is said in fun and excitement.  Other times its like its a drudgery, until we do it.  But, they know it brings joy to Grampz’ heart and soul.  They are all truly my little sunshines.

Taking a picture with Grampz at the movies...Landen, Autumn and Joselyn

Taking a picture with Grampz at the movies…Landen, Autumn and Joselyn

Taking a picture with Grampz in Washington. My Matthews grandkidz - Livvy, Benson, Charles and Kade in summer 2015

Taking a picture with Grampz in Washington. My Matthews grandkidz – Livvy, Benson, Charles and Kade in summer 2015

Rockwell and Grampz at Old Orchard Beach in Maine in September 2015

Rockwell and Grampz at Old Orchard Beach in Maine in September 2015

40314-GrandchildrenI am also blessed that I have children who make sure lots of photos are taken of the grandkidz. And I too take lots of them without me in them (believe it or not!!)  Here are a few favorites from the past couple of years.  There will be many more appear on this blog throughout the next 359 days.  You can rest assured!!

Rockwell and Sam Kravetz - the only "namesake" grandchildren

Rockwell and Sam Kravetz – the only “namesake” grandchildren (photo by Marissa Noe)

Hanging with all of the grandkidz except the Matthews Christmas 2014

Hanging with all of the grandkidz except the Matthews Christmas 2014

Landen Noe in 2014 (photo by Marissa Noe)

Landen Noe in 2014 (photo by Marissa Noe)

My sweet wife and I with grandchild #10 in Connecticut, Sept. 2015

My sweet wife and I with grandchild #10 in Connecticut, Sept. 2015

Olivia Matthews at the beach in Washington 2015

Olivia Matthews at the beach in Washington 2015

The Matthews kidz on a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park in 2015

The Matthews kidz on a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park in 2015

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The Noe kidz 2015

The Noe kidz 2015 (photo by Priscilla)

Reading to Grandkidz in Montana in 2014

Reading to Grandkidz in Montana in 2013

Olivia and Benson buried in sand at the beach in 2015

Olivia and Benson buried in sand at the beach in Washington state August 2015

Hanging with Autumn Summer 2015

Hanging with Autumn Summer 2015

Young Lyla scampers along the beach in Maine in September 2015

Young Lyla scampers along the beach in Maine in September 2015

Rockwell on his first day of school August 2014 (photo by Holly Kravetz)

Rockwell on his first day of school August 2014 (photo by Holly Kravetz)

Baby Sam Kravetz - September 2015 (photo by Marissa Noe)

Baby Sam Kravetz – September 2015 (photo by Marissa Noe)

Joselyn Noe - her (soon to be) 8th birthday photo shoot

Joselyn Noe – her (soon to be) 8th birthday photo shoot

Olivia and brother Charles, who turned 8 earlier in 2015

Olivia and brother Charles, who turned 8 earlier in 2015

Getting ready for a treat at Wendy's early in 2015

Getting ready for a treat at Wendy’s early in 2015

Fun with little Bensy in Washington August 2015

Fun with little Bensy in Washington August 2015

Cousins in summer of 2011

Cousins in summer of 2011

Lyla plays peek a boo on a road trip to Nebraska in 2013

Lyla plays peek a boo on a road trip to Nebraska in 2013

Joselyn inspecting a plant in Connecticut Sept. 2015

Joselyn inspecting a plant in Connecticut Sept. 2015

Kadester...Washington 2015

Kadester…Washington 2015

Landen at the park in 2015

Landen at the park in 2015

Lyla romping at a park in 2015

Lyla romping at a park in 2015

Charles at the Seattle Market

Charles at the Seattle Market

Livvy taking a dive into a pool of water at the beach in Washington 2015

Livvy taking a dive into a pool of water at the beach in Washington 2015

Yes, my grandkidz bring me immense joy and happiness. Money is nothing and cannot compare to the wonderful feeling being with these amazing souls can bring.

Fun with the Grandidz on my 59th birthday, Oct. 4, 2015

Fun with the Grandidz Landen, Lyla and Jos on my 59th birthday, Oct. 4, 2015

 

Feeling Lucky on Friday the 13th – Part I

There are THREE Friday the 13ths this year that we can be lucky on…the first one is today, the next one is in March and the last one is in November.  Here are 13 things I count myself Lucky for on this February 13, 2015:

Number 1 – Wonderful Wife

My Wonderful Wife of over 35 years

My Wonderful Wife of over 35 years

I most certainly Married Up!

I most certainly Married Up!

Number 2 – Great Family/Children

My Wonderful Family - 1993

My Wonderful Family – 1993

My Wonderful Family - 2012

My Wonderful Family – 2012

Number 3 – Grandkids (of course!)

Grandchildren!!

Grandchildren!!

Number 4 – My Siblings

My Siblings - ca 1971

My Siblings – ca 1972

Number 5 – My Cleveland Family

My family in Cleveland

My family in Cleveland – ca 2001

Number 6 – My Wonderful Cousins

My wonderful cousins...here I am with my cousin Lewis from Texas

My wonderful cousins…here I am with my cousin Lewis from Texas

Number 7 – My Friends in the Philippines

My Filipino friends - ca 2006

My Filipino friends – ca 2006

Number 8 – I am on the Right Side of the Dirt

Number 9 – My Friend Antsy McClain

With Antsy ca. 1998

With Antsy ca. 1998

Singing with Antsy around 2008

Singing with Antsy around 2008

Number 10 – I’ve Been Everywhere

I've Been Everywhere

I’ve Been Everywhere

Number 11 – Don’t Mind Being Weird — Its Awesome!

Being Weird is Awesome

Being Weird is Awesome

Number 12 – Bountiful Baskets – Veggies are Good!

Bountiful Baskets!

Bountiful Baskets!

Number 13

Living in a Wonderful World!

Living in a Wonderful World!

#TBT – Asahi Solar TV Commercial in Japan – 1990

DavidAsahiSolarHappy Throwback Thursday!  This is the first of my #TBT looks back on my work with me in Japan and around the US over the years.

Perhaps the most viewed item in my career, the following video includes the original Asahi Solar TV commercial from Japan, which aired all over the country for nearly half of 1990.

I have not written much about this video, though it has had extensive viewing since I posted it on YouTube a number of years ago.

Basically, at the time it was taken, I was the Director of International Business for Asahi Solar Corporation, which was Japan’s largest marketer of rooftop installed solar water heaters.  In the 1990s it was a big business.

Bunta Sugawara in one of his mob boss roles

Bunta Sugawara in one of his mob boss roles.  He died in November 2014

We had a famous actor from Japan, named Bunta Sugawara (8/16/1933 to 11/28/2014), who did most of our TV commercials.  He was (and still is) famous and was like a mix between the Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood of Japan.  The producers of the commercial didn’t feel that he was a fit for the theme of this particular commercial, though he was included in a bit part on it.

This particular commercial included a little doll called “Solar Bo” and was a bit too goofy for his liking.  So, they chose a big “gaijin” (foreigner) to do the part (that was me!).  I was to go to the Dentsu Advertising Agency’s recording studios in Tokyo and spent over 8 hours in a fake bathtub that was heated with an electric prod every hour, while they filmed the two 30 second spots.  We did a number of takes.  It was fun, but it was also grueling.  The video below contains the commercial as well as a collection of outtakes by Dentsu synched to the music of the Ghostbusters theme.  Yes, I am in a bathtub flying over Tucson!!

AsahiSolarClipAfter the commercial began to air, I had some minor celebrity as I traveled the country for Asahi on business.  People at airports and train stations would come to me and ask if I was the guy in the commercial.  It was fun and was an amazing ride!  Without further adieu, here is the video of the commercial and also the outtakes.  Enjoy!!

Coming Soon to Sumoflam Singlewide Blog – 2015

David in a National Ad Campaign for Asahi Solar in Japan, ca 1992

David in a National Ad Campaign for Asahi Solar in Japan, ca 1992

As 2015 has already come on strong, I already have plans in the works for new blog posts and, honestly, I can’t wait, so I thought I would pop in a little teaser of what to expect over the next few weeks:

#TBT Posts

Cartoon2

Cartoon from Oita Godo Shinbun (Oita Daily News – Japan)

The #TBT (Throwback Thursday) movement is getting bigger and I have already boarded that train on my Less Beaten Paths Travel Blog as I look back at old travel journal entries that are now going to be integrated into the blog.  For this particular blog in 2015 my #TBT Theme will be “Sumoflam in the Media” and I will resurrect magazine articles, newspaper articles, television shows and commercials that I have been in over the years.

 

 

 

Second Mesa, AZ

Cover article for the Asahi Solar Magazine – Me with Hopi Indians, providing a Solar Water Heater to them in 1990.

In this I will include my short-lived TV documentaries from Japan, translated versions of my newspaper column while living in Japan, more recent publications in American Magazines and Newspapers. And, there may be a few other fun surprises.  Watch for these every Thursday (or at least every other Thursday).

A TV Food Competition Primer

FN-ShowLogo-Chopped-1920x1080I have become an avid viewer of great Food Competition programming on television, including Food Network shows such as “Chopped,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “The Great Food Truck Race,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” and more. While listening to judges, I have learned all sorts of interesting things from cooking styles, food names and, most interestingly, terminology such as “flavor profile” and others.  I will introduce you to some of these and try to explain them away. Appearance and taste aren’t the only winning things with these shows as many culinary experts are becoming TV stars.  I’ll introduce some of them as well.

Scampering with squirrels – a Photo-Essay

DSC_5838Over the last couple of years I have become enamored with squirrels!  Through all of my wildlife photography, I have captured some great squirrel shots.  At the same time, as I look out by back deck door I have thoroughly enjoyed the amazing shows that squirrels present including their leaping, their frolicking with others and their foraging.  My fascination is seemingly endless.

How to be “Awesome, but getting better”

Life is Awesome but only getting better 40 years after graduating high school

Life is Awesome but only getting better 40 years after graduating high school

I have become known for replying “I’m awesome, but getting better” when asked how I’m doing.  I am a firm believer in trying to take a positive vent on things and be resilient.

Life may be hard, but the attitude one takes can really be life changing. I enjoy every day of life despite the stresses, challenges and obstacles thrown at me. I hope to share some of this positivity in an upcoming blog post.

The Joys of Being a Grandparent

David (Grampz) with all 9 grandchildren on Christmas Day 2012

David (Grampz) with all 9 grandchildren on Christmas Day 2012

My nickname is “Grampz” to my Grandkidz.  We are all hip…we use the letter Z at the end.

I never dreamed of having 9 (and maybe more) grandchildren.

I may have been an OK parent, but I like to believe I am a Helluva grandparent!