Been a year worth many Smiles! Smile Gas in Madison Heights, VA
I have to admit that my life is rich and joyful. This past year has been one very interesting and challenging year. There have been more ups and downs then a roller coaster ride in Kings Island. But I made it through the year with a smile on my face!!
The year started off on a high note as we were in Maryland finishing up a Christmas vacation and I saw a beautiful sunrise. We had some nice travel and then I started a new contract job for PrecisionHawk, a company that manufactures drone software. I was very excited, though it was a contractor position, I was able to work from home which made it very nice. My contract was supposed to be for one year but later on in the year the company transitioned management and many decisions were made, including one to eliminate all positions outside of North Carolina, which included me. That was totally unexpected, but, those kinds of things happen in this economy nowadays so one has to just roll with the punches.
Sunrise as seen from Ocean City, MD on New Year’s Day 2017…that’s the Atlantic Ocean.
Visiting PrecisionHawk HQ in NC in early January 2017
In February my daughter Marissa and I made a trip to Houston to drop off a trailer to my son Seth and his wife Holly. We took Missy’s kids and had some fun stops along the way there (in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) and back (in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri). Road trips are always a blast, but are even more fun with Grandikidz!
Visiting Alabama with Landen, Lyla and Joselyn
The giant Saturn Rocket on display at the Welcome Center near Huntsville, AL
Stopover in Louisiana
They do get much bigger!!
Being Chunky in Chunky, MS
Time in Houston was fun as well. Found a great quirky burger joint that we all went to. Pretty unique…
After visiting the family we returned home, first with a stopover in Uncertain, Texas to see the swamps. Though uncertain about things, we met Aaron Applebaum (Mystique Tours) who took us on a boat tour through the swamp. Didn’t see gators, but this February morning was a nice ride. The kids even go to drive the boats.
Joselyn and Grampz on the boat somewhere in the swamp of Caddo Lake, near Uncertain
Aaron Applebaum let’s Landen drive the boat in the swamp
from the swamps of Texas/Louisiana, we headed north through central Arkansas and Missouri — a route that brought both planned and unplanned adventures. In the middle of Arkansas, we came across a massive flock of migrating Snow Geese as we crested a hill. What an amazing sight!! We went through Missouri and then had a super time in Metropolis, IL.
Thousands of snow geese take to flight in central Arkansas
Hitting Missouri with the grandkidz
Having a super time with Superman in Metropolis
Later in the month my wife and daughter had a trip to Indianapolis to attend Time Out For Women. Wanting a road trip, I went along for the weekend ride. We went out of our way to visit Story, IN and the Story Inn for lunch. While they were at their conference, I visited some places in Indy. Always seeking adventure!
The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!
Welcome to Indianapolis!
Hanging with Anthony Snape after his fabulous show at the Lexington Opera House.
We didn’t travel in March at all, but I was thrilled to attend an amazing concert in Lexington, where I got to meet up with my old Australian musician pal Anthony Snape, who performed with the amazing Tommy Emmanuel. I took Marissa and she had a blast!
Later in the year I also got to attend a couple of other concerts, which I’ll note below.
Visiting Shenandoah National Park on Easter 2017
Julianne’s sister had a time share reservation in Virginia and so they set up a three night stay over Easter Weekend. As always, I wanted to drive. I would take Julianne up there and then drive back on Easter morning. I had a spectacular Easter morning visiting Shenandoah National Park and celebrating my own Easter Sunrise Service. Had a spectacular moon (and even got a photo of Venus!!!) and took a really nice shot of a deer.
Easter Moon (taken with a Nikon D5200 and Tamron 200mm-600mm lens)
Caught this deer at sunrise off the side of the road. It stayed long enough for a quick shot.
Easter sunrise from atop the Shenandoah Mountains
By July I was out of “full time“ work and was striving to make it on the two or three small contracts that I had for a number of years with Vype magazine. That made things very difficult.
A composite of me with all of my grandchildren in 2012 and then again, same pose in 2017 (minus the youngest)
Hanging with the Grandkidz at the Wigwam Village in Cave City, KY. Yes, we stayed there!
That said, it was probably fortuitous that my position was eliminated because in July one of the highlights of the year came along and that was being able to be with my entire family for the first time in five years. All of my children and all my grandchildren were gathered together here in Kentucky and we had in some cases up to two weeks of reunion with family members.
With the family reunion came some additional fun as we traveled with parts of the family to a number of diverse areas including Mammoth Cave National Park, New York to see the Hill Cumorah Pageant and along the way a couple of beautiful state parks with amazing waterfalls, then on to Cleveland where we had another huge family gathering with my Laurienzo family and most of my family that was with us on the trip.
With Grandkidz at Mammoth Cave NP
With my wife’s sister Laura and her husband Richard in the depths of the gorge at Watkin’s Glen
Got to see my good friend Corey White, who was performing in the Hill Cumorah Pageant.
Visiting King’s Island as a family – what fun!
Making a splash with my granddaughter Autumn
All of us enjoyed the view from atop Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, PA
With my sisters Nicole and Tina and brother Joe in Cleveland
My sister Sherry came up from Texas with her husband Brian and daughter Savannah to join us for a couple of days. Had a thrill going with them to see the band Chicago perform in Cincinnati. I hadn’t seen them since 1975!!
Traveling to Cincinnati with Sherry and Brian to go see Chicago
Chicago Live in 2017!
One of the many roller coasters at King’s Island
The two weeks in July was an amazing time and one which most of us will not forget too soon. We even got some family pics, including this goofy one at Waveland State Historic Park near Lexington. I was contracted by the park to do their official photography for websites and other materials. It has been fun to do this throughout the year.
The whole family in prime form – July 2017!
The year also brought sadness for me as one of my very good friends, Joseph Higginbotham, got ill and eventually passed away. Joseph was a good man and he had no family, very few friends and really nobody there for him, so I made numerous trips to West Virginia while he was in intensive care, a nursing home and ultimately in hospice. I was with Joseph at his bedside when he passed away.
Remembering my good friend Joseph Higginbotham, who passed away in June 2017
I also had a dear sweet cousin pass away. Donna Shoemaker, a cousin of mine through my Laurienzo family, passed away this year. She was one of the sweetest and kindest souls I’d ever met. Knowing her added luster to my life!
With my cousin Donna in 2016.
Visiting with Charles Snow
During 2017 I was also able to visit in North Carolina with one of my very close friends from college days who had also worked with me at Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, AZ. Charles Snow has been a friend of mine for well over 36 years, and I was thrilled to visit with him in North Carolina. He too has had some major illnesses and it breaks my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out for him daily as he suffers and struggles from a rare disease and from congestive heart failure. This kind of thing brings sadness to my heart. Besides him, I have a few other friends who are struggling.
Happy Happy Happy
But, where there are downs, there are also upsides. And the year brought many wonderful and exciting things for me, some of which were lifetime thrills!
When you speak of the highlights of your life, it often centers around children being born, getting married or some big events like that. I have had many of those in my life, but this year I had three big “Once in a lifetime” type of rare events happen.
The first of these occurred in January when I had heard about the possibility of seeing the migration of sandhill cranes as they come through Kentucky. In mid-January ventured south to Barren River Lake to check it out during their sandhill crane event. I was excited as I saw 200 or 300 Sandhill Cranes far out in a field. I couldn’t ever get very close.
Got to be amazed by Sandhill Cranes in January…1000s of them.
But, I had also heard that there might be some near Cecilia, Kentucky, which is near Elizabethtown. So that morning I drove up I-65 to Cecilia and drove around a little bit. Soon I came across a flock of these tall, beautiful sandhill cranes. To my astonishment, I soon saw that there were thousands of them! They surrounded me in every direction. The eerie sound they make echoed in my ears while I saw the beautiful grace of these birds taking off and landing in massive numbers while many others stayed on the ground feeding on the leftover corn in the farmland that they were in.
Love the Sandhill Cranes!
I hung around for nearly 5 hours watching this beautiful event, all the way until sunset. It will always remain a highlight of my life, though I plan to visit and revisit again in future years, including this upcoming January (2018). Ironically, in December of this year we went to Barren River Lake State Resort Park and stayed three nights. I once again saw hundreds of this birds!
Sandhill Cranes in December 2017 near Barren River Lake State Resort Park
Viewing the Solar Eclipse near Hopkinsville, KY
Another event happened, also in Kentucky. The middle of the year there was the famed great solar eclipse of 2017. It was a full eclipse which is very rare. In my 61 years of life, I had never seen one. So I took the day off and I booked it down to Hopkinsville, Kentucky where it was supposedly the epicenter and perhaps the best place in the world for viewing the eclipse. Thousands and thousands of people gathered from all around the world to witness this natural event. I was one of them.
Many cars had things on them like this one to go see the Total Eclipse
Thousands were in chairs to see the eclipse
This kid was focused!
For a couple of hours I drove around witnessing the “circus“ atmosphere in Hopkinsville. People were dressed in eclipse T-shirts and many had their Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon“ T-shirts on. Of course, everyone had their solar sunglasses!
As the event got near, I sought to find a place away from many people. I eventually found a small church that had parking for $10 and I paid them and I went and parked and sat and watched the event with amazement. I tried desperately to find a good filter for my camera in the previous weeks, but was not able to, so I had to wait until the actual event occurred to get some photos, which are shown below. Talk about a wonderful highlight!
Total Eclipse as seen through my Nikon
I got the Diamond!!
The last shot with my camera before the sun came out. Didn’t have a filter.
The third big exciting event of my life happened just a few weeks ago as I published my first book. I plan on publishing another 11 in the series, but my first book, titled “Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names,” is a book that took thousands of miles of travel and a lot of visits to out of the way places. I had written many blog posts and taken hundreds of photographs to finally create enough content for this book and those that will follow.
Published my First Book in December. Available on Amazon…sold over 100 copies and over 150 Kindle downloads in first month
Another highlight and good note for me for the year was being hired as a full-time employee by the website ComicBook.com in October. This was my first hired position in over five years and I have to say that I was filled with joy and gratitude for the opportunity. I am currently managing their database, which is massive and includes movies, television shows, anime and many other things. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s a blast to work with superheroes all day!
My Happy Place
My Happy Place
This year I spent many hours visiting the nearby Jacobson Lake in Lexington, taking photographs of sunrises, sunsets, nature scenes and lots of birds. It has become my “happy place” where I can seek solace and enjoy the wonderful variety of God’s creations.
I got my first good photographs of eagles in 2017. There are two bald eagles that are hanging around the lake and I was able to photograph them and experience that wonder.
Heron with breakfast
One of my many bald eagle shots
Not only did I get to see eagles, some of them close up as the photo below shows, but I also was able to witness a massive flock of Snow Geese in Arkansas as I traveled with my grandchildren, I was able to watch Osprey dive in the water and grab fish, I watched with amazement as a Baltimore oriole wove its nest in a sycamore tree over a number of days. This year became my bird watching year and it was wonderful.
Took this Bald Eagle shot near Cave Run Lake
My happy duckling
I am amazed at nature and the variety that it offers. It’s been wondrous to watch cormorants swimming in groups in the lake as they “herd“ fish into a corner and then feed voraciously! It has been interesting to see the unusual and curious looking merganser ducks swim in flocks together. It is always peaceful to watch the graceful flight of a great blue heron or a great white egret. Both of which I’ve been able to experience this year. (I’ll be doing a subsequent post on my best bird shots of 2017 — so watch for it.)
A Red-winged blackbird
This goldfinch apparently had a bad day
Great White Egret in Flight
An amazing bird – the Osprey
Then there are others….
Blue Heron with Breakfast
Despite the negative political climate that has evolved in America, the terrible hurricanes and earthquakes and fires that are devastated much of America, I have been very blessed to be in a lovely place and not be directly impacted by any of these things. I have been able to enjoy life to its fullest this year. I’ve been able to see God’s creations. Through my photography I have made many new friends. I am fortunate to get to see many of them at the lake. I’ve been able to have joy with my 10 grandchildren, my five children and my lovely wife throughout the year.
Some of my photographer friends….thanks to them for making 2017 a good year
Hanging with Eddie Flinchum at the lake
The gang at an eagle shoot meetup at Taylorsville Lake
Finally, we finished off the year on a high note. Earlier in the year I had been contracted to do the photography for Waveland State Historic Park in Lexington. Through them we coordinated an agreement with the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. We spent three days in a unit down there (read Staycation) between Christmas and New Years. Saw some splendid sunrises and sunsets and got to revisit the Sandhill Cranes. There were thousands of them all over the sky.
Winter evening sky at Barren River Lake
Sandhill Cranes fly across the sky
Daughter Chelsea takes after her Dad, catching the sunset
Found Paradise Point nearby — what a kick (there will be a separate blog post about this)
Brilliant Sky over Barren River Lake
When I look back on the year 2017, it will be with joy and happiness and many many many fond memories.
So, as 2017 comes to an end, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy and I look forward to a splendid 2018!
End of 2017 — sunrise near Barren River Lake