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

 

Countdown 365: #247 – Benson Matthews

Benson and Grampz September 2015

Benson and Grampz September 2015

Today is my grandson Benson’s birthday. This little guy has been amazing in his young four years of life!

Little Bensi was born with a heart defect and ended up having to have a couple of surgeries in the very early days of his life in order to save him. Ultimately he had changes to his heart so that he would be able to live and grow and that he has done for sure! And boy does he have a heart!!

Benson just before his heart surgery in 2012

Brave Benson just before his heart surgery in 2012

Benson July 2015

Benson July 2015

Always smiling!

Always smiling!

The first couple of years for Benson have not been easy but he made it through.  And, unless you knew that he had already had an operation, you would never be able to tell by the way he acts, plays, or interacts with other people.

Unfortunately, because they live so far away, I have not been able to spend as much time with him or his brothers and sister as I would like. But we have had a couple of occasions where we were able to spend a good amount of time and last summer (2015) we got to spend 10 days in Washington with them.  What a fabulous time we had and what a joy it was to get to know Benson.

Benson Matthews 2015

Benson Matthews 2015

Benson with his Dad Aaron

Benson with his Dad Aaron

Cuddling with Benson

Cuddling with Benson

During our visit, I was able to see each of the grandchildren and was able to sit on a chair and cuddle with Benson.  I spent time reading him books and getting to know this young grandchild of mine.  Not shy at all, he would cuddle with me for an hour or two as I read, told jokes and played with him.

Benson is a sharp little boy and he also has an endearing smile. One might think that he is shy, but he certainly is not. He is very amenable to new people and new environments 9as far as I could tell).

As for his heart defect, I saw no evidence of it when we went to the beach as he ran hard and jumped into the water like his sister and brothers did. He was all about collecting seashells, little rocks, and digging big holes in the sand.

Jumping and running...Benson is unstoppable

Jumping and running…Benson is unstoppable

Fun with Grampz 2015

Fun with Grampz 2015

Climbing Away

Climbing Away

And he is not fearless either. He climbs playground equipment without a problem.

Benson is truly a blessing to my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of his parents and siblings. He is an example of courage and strength, and this despite his youthful four years of age.

Don’t get me wrong however. He can be a true four year old.  It is not beyond him to  be a prankster (like his mother!) and can be a little troublemaker. He may be angelic but sometime he’s not really an angel. Nevertheless, he is fun to watch and to be around. And for this, I am grateful that Benson is a part of my life and my posterity.

 

Benson in 2013

Benson in 2013

Benson and a budgie at Tacoma Zoo 2015

Benson and a budgie at Tacoma Zoo 2015

Always mother's little helper

Always mother’s little helper

Countdown 365: #256 – Amaree Matthews

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

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

 

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree Getting Made Up 1982

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

Amaree in Flagstaff ca. 1983

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

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

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

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

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

Three sisters around 1987. Dresses were made by Julianne

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

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

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

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree around 1989, taken in Mesa, AZ

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree all dresses up nice in the early 1990s

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

Amaree in Nauvoo after her return from a mission in Japan

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

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

Amaree in an ad in Japan in the early 1990s

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

Amaree in France during her chorus days

Amaree in France during her chorus days

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

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree in 2012. One of my favorites!

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

Amaree at her high school in Jun 1998

One of Amaree's photos near her high school graduation

One of Amaree’s photos near her high school graduation

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

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

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

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

Amaree with her son Charles shortly after he was born.

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

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

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Amaree and her fun family in the fall of 2014

Dancing with Amaree

Dancing with Amaree

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

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

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

Visiting with Amaree in Great Falls, MT in 2006

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

Powerball Frenzy: Dopamine Dreaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS THE DOPAMINE THING?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But only this time….

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

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

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

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

Hanging with the Matthews grandkidz, including Livvy

Hanging with the Matthews grandkidz, including Livvy

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

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

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

With Grandkidz in Seattle, summer 2015

With Grandkidz in Seattle, summer 2015

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

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

Livvy

Livvy

Livvy is cure in braids

Livvy is cute in braids

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

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

 

 

Livvy will be a leader and show the way

Livvy will be a leader and show the way

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

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

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

Livvy and Grammy

Livvy and Grammy

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

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

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

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

Livvy and brothers having fun with Mom

Livvy and brothers having fun with Mom

Leaping in with gusto

Leaping in with gusto

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

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

Goldilocks

Goldilocks

Livvy - the sand dollar collector

Livvy – the sand dollar collector

Pumpkin picking with little brother Benson

Pumpkin picking with little brother Benson

She and her brothers turn their Mom "Inside Out"

She and her brothers turn their Mom “Inside Out”

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

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

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: #291 – Landen Noe – Grandchild #5

Landen NoeToday (Dec. 17, 2015) is the 7th birthday of my 5th grandchild, Landen Noe. He was the fulfillment of his grandmother’s dream to have a red-headed grandchild. Landen is our little “super hero mach man.”

Over these past seven years it has been a joy to watch this little guy develop his unique and fun personality. In the past two years he has really come into his own and it has been great!

Landen has always loved the “boy” things.  We have, at times, teased him with “girl things” and he flat out refuses.  He will not wear anything that is pink.  There has to be blue in it or green. He is very specific that way.

Landen as a young guy a couple of years ago. Always a cutie!

Landen as a young guy a couple of years ago. Always a cutie!

Landen and sister Joselyn

Landen and sister Joselyn

Despite his boyish character, Landen also has a very soft side.  He can be very loving and affectionate.  He takes great care of his older and younger sisters Joselyn and Lyla.

He is at that age where he has learned the difference between being “tough” and being “loving.”  I think that inside, he has the propensity for being the “loving guy” rather than the “tough guy.” But he will always try to make sure that the “tough guy” persona shows, at least outwardly.

Landen the artist

Landen the artist

Roughhousing with Landen

Roughhousing with Landen

I count it as a real blessing that Landen lives so close and that we can spend a lot of time together.  In Lexington, I am basically surrounded by granddaughters (which are wonderful, mind you).  I have three grandsons in Washington and then two more who will be leaving for Houston at the end of December 2015. So, Landen is the only “rough house” grandchild I have to play with.

Like his sisters, Landen has grown up with a photographer mother who takes every opportunity to capture memories (many of the photos in this post are actually taken by Marissa — and I stole them!)  As a result, Landen has learned the art of photography modeling at his young age and there are some darling photos of this young chap that really show his personality. Following are a few:

Landen loving on his mother Marissa

Landen loving on his mother Marissa

Tough Guy Landen -- the super hero

Tough Guy Landen — the super hero

Patriotic Landen on Veteran's Day 2015

Patriotic Landen on Veteran’s Day 2015

Landen and Lyla in 2014

Landen and Lyla in 2014

Landen enjoying the ocean with his Dad Adam

Landen enjoying the ocean with his Dad Adam

Sensitive Landen showing affection to a chick

Sensitive Landen showing affection to a chick

Classy and sassy

Classy and sassy

Having fun with Grandma and Grampz

Having fun with Grandma and Grampz

Joy of youth in 2012 (I think)

Joy of youth in 2012 (I think)

Landolph the Red-nosed Reinboy

Landolph the Red-nosed Reinboy

Landen and Grampz after a 5K walk in June 2015

Landen and Grampz before a 5K walk in June 2015

Heading to first grade!

Heading to first grade!

Spunky Landen at the movies with Grampz, his sister and his cousin Autumn

Spunky Landen at the movies with Grampz, his sister and his cousin Autumn

Landen4

Landen as captured by Priscilla Baierlein (see www.priscillabphotography.com)

Landen is truly a blessing in my life and brings me great joy and happiness.  On one hand he can play rough with me (which I love), but on the other hand, he can snuggle with me and read a good book.

He is a sweet joyful boy that brings a smile to anybody that meets him. His heartwarming personality will do him wonders as he grows and matures.

I am indeed grateful for this young spark of energy and joy in my life! Grandkidz Rock!

Countdown 365: #300 – Only 300 Days To 60

keep-calm-only-300-days-to-goI celebrate life and today I am only 300 days away from 6 decades of it.Officially, I am in my 21,615th day of life.  In my 365 day countdown of my blessings, I have set aside days 300, 200 and 100 to celebrate portions of my life,  Can’t we celebrate our own lives?

In this “300 Days To Go” edition I want to look waaaay back at my youth.  I want my children and grandchildren to see that the “Happy Grampz” of 2015 was also a “Happy Kid” in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A slide from about 1964 or 1965

A slide from about 1964 or 1965

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to dig through a stash of old photos and old slides (for those of you in the digital age, a “slide” was color-reversal film used from the 1930s to the 1980s mainly…and production was discontinued completely in 2010…  Known as Kodachrome — like the Paul Simon song — or Ektachrome, there was also Anscochrome, made the company Ansco until the 1980s.)  These were slides that my dad had kept.  He was an avid photographer and preferred slide film over regular film because it lasted longer and had better colors.

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

These old slides were a treasure trove of memories, as were the numerous photos I was able to scan from three photo albums that came with them.  I gleaned a few of the photos from them, along with some I have had and wanted to share my early life in this post…if only for a few fleeting photographic moments (since I don’t really recall many of these times).  So, following are a few photos with some comments in the captions.

I have posted this before. It was given to me by my Laurienzo family and is the earliest known photo, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born.

I have posted this before. It was given to me by my Laurienzo family and is the earliest known photo, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born. This was taken in Cleveland, OH, my birthplace

A baby photo of me probably from Albuquerque in 1957

A baby photo of me probably from Albuquerque in 1957

Another 1957 photo of me

Another 1957 photo of me

A photo from 1959 (could be 1958 -- heck, I don't remember!!)

A photo from 1958 (could be 1957 — heck, I don’t remember!!)

A photo definitely from 1959 (the photo edge said so). I love this one...peeking out of the old car

A photo definitely from 1959 (the photo edge said so). I love this one…peeking out of the old car

Another one from 1958 maybe? Even back then I liked goofy hats!

Another one from 1958 maybe? Even back then I liked goofy hats!

March 1959 apparently. Playing with a cat in Albuquerque. Love seeing the old cars in the background....provides some perspective

March 1959 apparently. Playing with a cat in Albuquerque. Love seeing the old cars in the background….provides some perspective

A photo of me from 1958 when we took a trip to New York.

A photo of me from 1958 when we took a trip to New York.  I believe that his was in Coney Island.

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

Donning the cowboy boots in 1959

Donning the cowboy boots in 1959 (My grandson Charles looks a lot like me in this pic!!)

Another shot from New York in 1957

Another shot from New York in 1957

Many of the pictures I have are with my brothers Aaron and Danny.  Danny was only two weeks younger than me.  His mother Marge married my dad in October 1962, shortly after I turned 6.

With my brothers Aaron and Danny, probably in late 1962 or early 1963 in Albuquerque

With my brothers Aaron and Danny, probably in late 1962 or early 1963 in Albuquerque

Hanging around with my brothers Danny and Aaron in 1963.

Hanging around with my brothers Danny and Aaron in 1963.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1965 or 1966

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I love this photo of us, likely in Jemez Springs, NM

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I love this photo of us, likely in Jemez Springs, NM in 1964

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I am assuming this was at Sandia overlook near Albuquerque in 1963 or 1964

With my brothers Danny and Aaron. I am assuming this was at Sandia overlook near Albuquerque in 1963 or 1964

Finally, a few more “happy go lucky” shots of me as a youthful adventurer!

Posing on a rock in the early 1960s

Posing on a rock in the early 1960s

Mischievous me - 1957 in New York

Mischievous me – 1957 in New York

Showing off the guns and six-pack in 1964

Showing off the guns and six-pack in 1964

Stylishly climing a tree in 1963 or 1964

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964

Another photo of me in a tree, probably 1964

Another photo of me in a tree, probably 1964

A balancing act

A balancing act

Climbing rocks with Danny

Climbing rocks with Danny

Staying warm in the cold mountain air

Staying warm in the cold mountain air

We all can hopefully look back on our lives and see the blessings and joys that we had.  As look back on these decades old photos, many of which I had never seen until last year, I truly count my blessings of having many happy childhood moments (even if I don’t remember them!!)

 

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

Joe Kravetz with David, ca. 1959

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

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

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

Joe Kravetz with his father Alexander in the early 1950s

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

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

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

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

Jessica Kravetz in the 1960s

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

JoeKKindergaten1938a

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz in fifth grade in 1944.

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

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

Joe with his brother Lou in 1957

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Joe Kravetz on a visit to New York ca. 1959

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

Hanging with Joe Kravetz around 1962??

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

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

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

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Playing with Dad in the 1960s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

Joe Kravetz late 1950s

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz around 1959

Joe Kravetz around 1959

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherry and Gary with Dad in 1974

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto in 1990

Visiting the Gold Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan in 1990

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

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

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

Joe with family in 1997 in Tarrytown, NY

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

Joe with kids at Cumberland Gap on Kentucky/Tennessee border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz 2012

Joe Kravetz in 2014

Joe Kravetz in 2014

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

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

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

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

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

Dad and me in 1997 in New York

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

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

Joe Kravetz in Cumberland Gap

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

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