A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 5: Gratitude for Friends

Most of us have friends. Some may be very close and others may just be casual acquaintances. Friends can almost feel like family at times. Over the years I’ve had some very close friends and friends that gave me a feeling of belonging.  But, one thing many say about me…  I have never met a stranger.

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico

The first friend I can recall was back in Albuquerque around 1964, when I was about eight years old. For about three years I was friends with a boy named Ricky Fetterer. I would walk down to his house every morning and watch cartoons (we liked watching The Mighty Hercules — even today I can recall the theme song).  After that was over, we would walk to school together, about a quarter-mile from his house. He certainly was, at that time, my best friend. One day they moved away to Kansas or Missouri or someplace like that. I was brokenhearted that I had lost my best friend. But, it was not soon thereafter that we too left Albuquerque and headed east to live in Richardson, Texas.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966 in Richardson, Texas

In Richardson, the neighborhood we lived in had a few kids and so I became friends with them and we played football and catch and things like that together, but I never really had the chance to grow close to them as we were only there for about a year and a half. I don’t even recall names or faces. I can recall playing football in the front yard and, as I try to look at the faces, all I see are blurs. In fact, over the years of my youth, I never did have another close friend like Ricky until I got to my senior year in high school.

Joe Kravetz during his Skaggs Days in Denver, CO around 1969

You see, my father worked for Skaggs Drug and we moved quite often. From 1968 through 1974 I attended three different elementary schools, two junior high schools and three different high schools.  During that period we lived in Dallas, Denver, Great Falls, Bozeman and finally Murray, Utah. Did I have some friends? Of course I did. I had friends from band, friends from other clubs, friends from extra-curricular activities. But none were really all that close. And, I think that besides the relative short times in each place, another part of the problem was that I always tried too hard to make friends. I was known for bragging and boasting in an effort to impress. That was one of the downsides of moving so much and thus it led to a lack of self-confidence.

 

Here I am working with some of the Bozeman Yearbook staff in 1973. Sheila, Melody, Sharon and Joyce. I was contacted by one of them a via Facebook a couple of years ago when they came across this photo.

I find it ironic that in this day of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, that I have been able to renew relationships with people from my old high school days. As we correspond and look at each other’s Facebook we have grown closer despite distance. And that has been an interesting and blessed part of life.  I am grateful for how something like Facebook can open up formerly closed doors.

Intramural Basketball team members at Bozeman Senior High back in 1973. I was the player/coach for one of the teams.  That’s me, third from left in back row.

A recent photo of my Bozeman friend Bud, who now lives in Colorado.

Just a few days ago I was contacted by a friend of mine from Bozeman Senior High School named Bud Herzog. That is one person who I still remember from the days of my junior year in high school. We caught up through Instagram and then eventually spoke on the phone for about an hour to reminisce about old times, old friends and acquaintances. It was refreshing to reestablish a long last relationship I had over 40 years ago.

 
As I noted above, I really forged a couple of close relationships with friends during my senior year in high school in Murray, Utah. I guess a number of things led to that opportunity to make those friends. First, having moved into a predominantly LDS/Mormon community, and having a desire to seek more about it because of a chance meeting I had in Bozeman just the previous summer.  A girl from Summit, NJ and her family were there and introduced me to the church and gave me a Book of Mormon. So, while I was registering for my senior year, I decided to take seminary class  (very common in large LDS communities such as Salt Lake City and Mesa, Arizona) and it was through seminary that I met some of the individuals that would eventually become my very close friends. And it turned out that they lived in the same neighborhood that I did. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the church’s boundaries, but, as it turns out, I lived in the same ward boundaries as these guys did. So, it seems that all of the chips fell into the same bowl to create the perfect opportunity to forge new friendships.
 
Obviously, I still had the problems talking about myself and had spoken highly of my previous years in Montana thus leading to my Murray-based nickname of “Monty Montana“ during my senior year of high school. There were a few guys who befriended me and made my life a little better, In fact, a lot better.  But, back then I was always “Monty” to them.
 

Jonathan Jensen as he looked in high school in 1974

I became close friends with five or six of these guys. Perhaps the most prominent of them were the two I grew closest to as friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russell Graves. We remain close friends even to this day. Both Jonathan and Russ lived just a couple of blocks from me and I spent a lot of time at their homes, getting to know their families, their parents, etc.  In fact, I was probably at their places more than my own house.  And as I drew near to joining the church, I also became very close to Jonathan‘s father Boyd Jensen, who at the time was the Bishop of the Murray 20th Ward. Bishop Jensen became almost like a second father to me and I so strongly desired to have a family like they had because, as I have noted in previous blog posts, my family situation was not the best.

 

Murray 20th Ward Young Adult basketball team in 1975 (Dale Simper is front left, next to me)

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort in Utah in 2016

Through my activities in the ward, specifically participating in their sports programs — softball, volleyball and basketball, I grew closer to many of these guys. And as a senior in high school, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Jonathan and Russell and a few of the other guys were all part of the basketball team and/or the football team. They were all popular in school. And here I was, a virtual nobody — a braggadocious “Monty Montana”, being embraced with friendship buy these guys. That truly helped open the door for other friendships. And for that I have always been very grateful because, honestly, I think that it saved my life.

 
 

Visiting Russ at his home in Murray, Utah in 2016

I spent a lot of time at Jonathan and Russ’s houses. And usually, it wasn’t just me and Russ or me and Jonathan, but all three of us and often times more of our friends including John Janssen, Dale Simper, and a few others.

Jonathan, Russ and also Dale, have remained close friends over the years. Every time I visit the Salt Lake area, we all get together and reminisce of good times and just spend time learning about each other‘s current lives… What is up with all of their children and my children, talk about grandchildren, talk about jobs. These guys have always been there for me and I am so grateful to them. In many respects, they’re almost like family to me.
 

Visiting my friends Russ, Jonathan and Dale in the summer of 2018 in Murray, Utah

Glen Krebs has been a very close friend. He officiated at one of my daughters’ weddings in this photo

Funny thing is that, through them, I was introduced to another Murray grad when I came to Kentucky.  Glen Krebs graduated the year before me and went on his LDS mission to Japan as well.  Most of my friends were either friends with him or knew him well.  When I first came to Kentucky for job interviews, I was able to stay at Glen’s house.  We have since become very close.  I have done work for him.  His wife and mine both went to the same high school in Mesa, Arizona and we even share the same wedding anniversary date of July 15!!  Like Jonathan and Russ, Glen has always been there to help get me through the difficult challenges of life when I needed him to.

 

Glen is also an avid supporter of my writing and books. I signed my most recent copy for him here. (We are also both UK Fans….)

Penny Strong as I knew her in 1976.

Finally, during the time I was trying to get into the church and then make decisions concerning my mission, I had become good friends with a wonderful young lady from Cottonwood High School named Penny Strong (now married with a different last name).  To this day, I can’t recall how we first met, but she was a godsend.  Ours was not a romantic relationship.  It was a true friendship and she was always there to talk and listen. She was like a “my age group” sister to me in the real sense.  Even to this day we stay in touch.  I am, even to this day, grateful for the strong positive influence Penny had in my life.

This is Penny in 2018. Like me, a happy grandparent and she still has that wonderful youthful look. So glad we are still friends.

This was the group I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) with in Feb. 1976. We all flew to Nagoya together. (Marc White is 4th from the left.  I am on the far right)

Busily engaged as a missionary in 1976

Eventually, we all go our separate ways. Jonathan, Russ, Dale, John and others all left for LDS missions to various parts of the world. I too ended up joining the church and serving an LDS mission. I followed in their footsteps and it was because they were such good examples in helping me to make good decisions.

 
Serving two years as a missionary and being together with a companion for a number of months, it is not usual that some of the missionary companions become good friends. I haven’t kept in contact with many of my former missionary companions or others. But I try to.  Interestingly, while I was in the Language Training Mission in February/March 1975, I had TWO companions and one of them was someone I knew from Murray. His name was Marc White. I did not know Marc very well during high school, but I do know that he was the quarterback of the football team and he was a great leader. During our missionary years, we became very close and he was kind of the cement that kept me strong during my weak times. Since our missions, I have been in touch with him a few times, but we have kind of lost touch over the years. But I’ll never forget how good Marc was in being a good friend and not just a missionary companion and leader to me.
 

One of my favorite mission companions was Lee Richan.  Sadly, he passed away in 2012

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

I have kept in touch with very few of those that I served missionary time with in Japan in the 1970s.  I am friends with a few on Facebook, and keep track of them that way, but we’ve all gone our separate ways. There was one, however, to whom I became very close friends with and had remained friends until he died a few years ago and that is Lee Richan. Much like me, Lee was a convert to the church. He had been a motorcycle rider for many years and had an interesting background. But, as missionary companions,  we achieved our goals together and we had a very fun time together. He was very good about remembering birthdays and would always call me or send me a note on my birthday. Over the years we would talk and communicate and when I could get to Utah,  we would visit with each other.  Sadly, Lee passed away on December 17, 2012.  He was 58.

Lee Richan as I knew him around 2010

Lee was not the first of my friends who had passed away at early age. But, his passing was certainly the most impactful that had experienced up to that time. There were two or three former missionaries and there were a couple of people from two of my different high schools that I had received notification that they had passed. It is always sad when someone you know passes away. But I was really brokenhearted when Lee passed away. His friendship was a valuable jewel to me.

Our first photo together ca. 1978

After my mission, I attended BYU and actually became roommates with Jonathan Jensen there. He and a couple of others had pitched in to buy a house.  There were a couple of others in the house I knew and then I became friends with the other roommates that were there with me. But, I was too engaged in trying to find a “eternal companion,“ to be very involved with my friends most of the time. And once I had found my sweetheart, Julianne, my friendships took a back burner a long time even though I did stay in contact.

 
Time came and went. Jobs came and went. Julianne and I ultimately moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to take us closer to her home yet keep us away from the dreaded heat. While in Flagstaff, I would attend college at Northern Arizona University and it was there today forged my next close friendship with now lifelong friend Charles Snow. Both of us had some Jewish of bringing in our family and we both were converts and we both had a lot of things in common. Eventually, Charles and I worked at the same places are a couple of times and that was always fun. As things would go, we moved onto Arizona State University and Charles and Michelle moved on in other directions. He currently lives in North Carolina and I have been able to visit him there.
 

Visiting with Charles Snow in North Carolina in 2016

Like me, Charles was always fond of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before like me, Charles was always find of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before.
 

Family in Japan in 1987

By 1987, my family eventually went to Japan for a few years.  We made a few friends in Japan, chiefly people that would help us through that experience. But nobody really became too close per se. Life was too busy with children and everything else going on.
 

With Ron (aka Antsy McClain)  ca. 1998

It wasn’t until we returned back from Japan in 1991 that I was blessed with a new lifelong friendship.  I could not locate work in Arizona and ultimately was hired as a contract Japanese interpreter for an auto parts plant in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1992.  I shared a table with another interpreter, named Ron Bell, who was originally from Ohio but was living in Kentucky at the time. Ron was always good for a joke. During his days in college at BYU, Ron was an editorial cartoonist and has also become quite the artist. We always talked of collaborating some day on something or other. There were evenings as well that I would go over to his place and listen to him play his guitar and sing his songs. He eventually left the company and went on to other things. But we stayed in touch as he lived locally in the Lexington area and we remained friends. He later formed a partnership with another guy and as musicians, they called themselves the “Trailer Park Troubadours.” As part of their schtick, Ron had given himself a pseudonym of Antsy McClain, which he still uses to this day.

Working with Antsy McClain

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015

The Trailer Park Troubadours eventually landed a recording contract and had a website that they were not happy with.  Ron, knowing that I could do web work, asked me to start managing his website, which I have done continuously for nearly 25 years.

 
Over those years, I have not just been a business associate doing his website. We have become very close friends and like brothers. We have seen each other struggle through life’s challenges. We have celebrated each other’s good times. Antsy (which is what I typically call him now) helped me to fulfill one of my dreams of being in a band and touring as I was able to participate with the group, not as a musician, but now with logistics and other things. I have always been his biggest cheerleader.
 

Visiting with Antsy McClain (and gawking at his grandchild pix) just before a show in Ohio in 2016

We have actually seen each other‘s children grow up and become parents.  Antsy has joined the grandparent club and now he and I both share the blessing of being grandparents. This has been a joyful relationship for me and hopefully for Ron. I am heartfully grateful for this long 25 year friendship.
 

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco in the early 2000s.  Getting to live a dream thanks to a good friend

 

Having BBQ with my old friend and fellow Troubs’ fan Michael Fisher in Georgetown, TX  We first met through Facebook

As I mentioned early on, Julianne has always said that I have never met a stranger. And that is true. I am always friendly and outgoing and social. That has helped me to develop other friendships over the years. Facebook has opened up doors for me to  develop virtual friendships that I would’ve never expected. I have become friends with people through Facebook and eventually, in some cases, have been able to visit them and get to know them better. Some of these friendships came as a result of Trailer Park Troubadours associations (such as Michael Fisher in photo). Others came as a result of my travel blogging. But in each case these are friendships that I value. There are others that I become friends with on Facebook they have yet to meet in person but we share things in common. To me, that has become a unique form of friendship making.

Hanging out with Texas travel blogger, author and photographer Tui Snider in Azle, TX whom I first met through Facebook.

One of these Facebook friends is Tui Snider. She is a Texas author whom I first met as a result of her book about offbeat attractions in Texas. She has authored a number of books since that time. We quickly became friends via Facebook and, as she lives very close to my sister in Texas, one trip I went out to visit with her and her husband Larry. We have hit it off and are now good friends. I relish her great success in writing, selling books and her numerous speaking engagements. Thankfully, she has been a great mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me to get my first two books out and on the market.

Bobby Cochran performing with Steppenwolf in 1975. I took this at the show.

One of the more interesting friendship stories is that of guitarist Bobby Cochran. I became friends with the former Steppenwolf guitarist when he joined and played lead guitar for Antsy for many years. I actually roomed with Bobby a couple of times on the road and we have taken many trips together and talked about everything…music, religion, politics.  Funny thing about Bobby is that I saw him perform with Steppenwolf in 1975 (see the photo).  Who’d have thought that 25 years later we would be friends and traveling together.

Enjoying time with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY around 2012

I also count myself fortunate to be friends with a number of other very talented musicians that I was introduced to through Antsy McClain.  These would include guitarists, multi-instrumentalists and others.

Hanging with friend Edgar Cruz…a guitarist from Oklahoma
Visiting with Anthony Snape, Nashville-based singer/songwriter from Australia.  I first met him in Bardstown and have kept in touch throughout the years.
With Bruce Wandmayer in 2016 at Woodflock.  Bruce has been with Antsy McClain as his saxophone and slide guitar player for over 20 years.
With a number of photographer friends watching for Bald Eagles at Taylorsville Lake in 2017
Watching for birds at Jacobson Park with Eddie Flinchum

Over the past 2 to 3 years, I have become very engaged in photography. It has always been a passion of mine, but with a nicer camera and a lovely park with a lake nearby, it has become a daily activity. Jacobson Park is nearby and has a large lake and lots of wildlife and lots of beauty. I visit almost daily and practice my art of photography there whether it be on birds, plants or nature such as sunrises and sunsets. Through this activity I’ve also developed friendships with other photographers and these too are unique and fun friendships. We talk about birds and we talk about other things. A couple of these photographers were Vietnam vets and we talk about their time in the service. I have learned about a couple of their families and their family life as they have about mine. It is nice to have these friends and some of them I see almost on a daily basis.

I see Jerome Keeler almost daily. This guy has an eagle eye for ALL birds

David Marler is another of my photographer friends who is out at Jacobson Park almost daily. Great guy and excellent photographer.
Next door neighbor Mike Lemaster

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to add some comment about a couple of my neighbors.  Mike Lemaster has been next door to us for nearly 20 years.  He and Lauren have become good friends and we have watched each other’s children grow up and watched grandkids come along.  Next door to him is another amazing neighbor in Steve Ward. He and his wife Chris are overly generous and always giving.

Both of these neighbors have always been gracious with their time and provide advice.  We have had cookouts together and other fun activities.  Mike keeps an immaculate yard and that is the only thing he does to make me feel bad!  As for Steve, there have been numerous instances where he has come over to help, without being asked. He is the kind of neighbor everybody dreams about having…except for us…it is a reality.

Neighbor Steve Ward. He has become a very good friend and is an amazing neighbor.

I have been blessed to have many many other friends from all walks of life.  Many of you who I count as my friends will read this and likely wonder where you are.  You are in my mind, but not enough space to add any more.  I am grateful for all of my many friends.  My life is truly rich and blessed with friendships.  Way more than I am truly worthy of.  Thanks to ALL of you!!

A Look Back at 2017

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

Lunch at Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, MS (see Roadside America Post abt Mammy’s Cupboard)

Stopover in Louisiana

Holding a baby gator at the Gator Chateau in Jennings, LA

They do get much bigger!!

Being Chunky in Chunky, MS

Having Fun with the Grandkidz at the Magnolia Market Silos in Waco, TX

Time in Houston was fun as well.  Found a great quirky burger joint that we all went to.  Pretty unique…

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX – a load of fun!!

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.

Uncertain, Texas

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!

Story, Indiana

The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!

Nashville, Indiana

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

Mammoth Cave

At the amazing waterfall in Letchworth State Park in New York

One of dozens of waterfalls in the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

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

Cleveland!

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….

Flying squirrel

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

Jerome Keeler

Charles Gough

Hallie Faurest

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.

Choose Happy

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

Julianne and David celebrate 35 years together

My daughter Marissa compiled this look back at our 35 years of “merried” life.

This video includes music by my good friends Antsy McClain and Anthony Snape and also a touching song by Joe Walsh.