Yep, it’s the time of year when many of us look back and reflect upon the year that is about to give up the ghost. Since I am now on my annual Christmas time vacation, I have time to do just that – look back.
When I began to take stock of the year, with each memory I recounted, I became more and more struck by how absolutely fanstastic this past year has been. Even in the face of the ongoing Covid pandemic, or maybe in response to the pandemic, 2021 for me has turned out to be a gem. Since it was packed year, I have lots to reflect upon.
This is a l o o o n g post. So strap yourself in for the ride!
Themes emerged during the year and looking back, are very clear to identify:
1) Reconnecting with people and places from the past that I have loved,
2) Reconnecting with myself,
3) Staying connected with nature, primarily through hiking, and
4) Soaking in family milestones.
There are several happenings of the year that fall within more than one of the themes. Below I will address each of the themes with words and pix.
RECONNECTING WITH PEOPLE AND PLACES
While there are a plethora of wonderful reasons that I love living in Utah, one of the outcomes that I have experienced since I moved here in the summer of 2016 has been the distance between me and some of my family and friends.
My mother and my son Elias and his beautiful wife Sara and goregous and fun children Ellie and Jude, all live in North Carolina. My mother has averaged a visit here at least once a year. Seeing my son and his family has been less regular. He is the Army and gets deployed and it is harder for them to travel for several reasons.
Well this year, I was able to see both my mom and Elias two times! I saw my mom twice to assist her after she had surgery and each time I was also able to see my son.
One of the best memories with my mom this year was when we sat down and had a conversation for my very first podcast episode. My mom has a good sense of humor. We talked about the cake and were goofy while doing so.
My favorite time with my son and his family was during my October visit prior to Halloween. We visited a local farm fall festival and took some fun pix.
The hardest thing about going to visit my mom and son is when it comes time to leave. That has always been rough for me. They are all such amazing people and I wish I could see them at a moment’s notice. I love them DEARLY.
Another key connection made this year was with my long-time high school buddy Robert Stinson. He and I first met in 1978 when we were both 14. We could not stand each other the first time we met.
Until this year I had not seen Robert face to face in at least 6 years. Neither of us could specfically remember that last time we saw each other. We went from not seeing each other for years to me making three visits to Oklahoma to see him.
“It’s like we’re neighbors now.”– Robert Edison Stinson
In addition to seeing Robert, I was also able to see his dad, who I last saw in Oklahoma in January 2016. (Robert was living in VA at the time.) Frank Stinson is an amazing man who worked his butt off to care for his family. It was terrific to reconnect with Frank.
My visits to Oklahoma were the equivalent of hitting a gold mine of reconnection. During my visits I was able to see people I hadn’t seen in 25+ years. The person who I hadn’t seen in the longest time was Robert’s cousin Sheryl. I knew her when I live in Venezuela in the 70s. I left Venezuela when I was 12. When I saw her in August it had been 45 years since I had last seen her. Remarkable!
She is such a nice lady. She was nice back then and still as wonderfully nice today. She let Robert and I clean out stalls on my first Oklahoma visit of the year and then when I came back for Labor Day weekend, she allowed Ann to cut the mane of one her horses and also gave her a ride on one of them too!
Another treasure trove was getting to see Robert’s sisters Debra, aka Koren, and Beatrice. I was also able to connect with Jana Dossman, who was Robert’s neighbor in Broken Arrow, OK during our high school years. She was also nice and very cute! I don’t have any pictures of Debra or Jana, but I do have pictures of the morning that Beatrice, who is a master baker, taught me how to make FRANK STINSON’S WORLD FAMOUS AND BEST EVER homemade biscuits and sausage gravy.
And yet another reconnection made from my trips to Tulsa was with one of my best buddies from high school, Nick Montoya. Nick is a super smart, super nice, super funny all-around great guy. I saw him last in Jan of 2016 as I was moving from GA to CA.
Robert and I went to see Nick several times and for the most part, he is the same amazing guy he was in high school. I wish I had a friend like him here in UT that I could hang with all the time. On my last visit to Tulsa during the first week of December, we went out to eat with Nick and two of his boys – Grayson and River. It was one of the most hilarious things ever. Since they are young children, they were all over the place. The high point was when Nick’s oldest son, Grayson, told Robert a joke and then in a very loud voice said, “You just got roast by a little kid.” You can hear it for yourself below.
There was a subtheme in the “Robert Section” of the reconnecting theme: seeing the world’s most amazing band – Brave Combo. Each of the three times I visited Robert, we were able to see Brave Combo perform.
Each one was pure magic! Seeing Brave Combo is about as close to pure joy that I have experienced in my life.
As if this could get it any better…yes, it could! Because on the first visit to Tulsa, my daugter Mariana and her boyfriend Cooper flew in the night before the Brave Combo concert and drove with Robert and I to Kansas to see the show. We all had an absolutely blast. You can read more about that here.
I must share a few more pix of Brave Combo. Two weeks after the pictures above were taken, I flew back to Tulsa with Ann. We drove down to West, TX to see Brave Combo play at Westfest 2021. It is huge community fair. I attended in 2014 and it was terrific.
This year, it was one of the best events I have ever been to!
It was jam-packed with people. As the night wore on the crowd got younger and younger and the beer started to take wings. I am sharing a few pics below, but you can read all about it here.
During our travels, we made a few sightseeing stops. In the photo below Robert is holding up one of our favorite “friends” in the Round Barn in Acadia, OK. In fact, seeing that friend, the pickle, was also a point of reconnection this year. I had not seen it many, many years.
On the way back from the Westfest event, we were able to stop and see my brothers Ed and John, who now live in the Ft. Worth metro area. We drove up Sunday morning, met them at their nice church and then they prepared a delicious lunch for us at their lovely home.
It had been a couple years since I had seen Ed and his family Heidi, Sydnee and Jaycee. I helped Ed drive a moving truck from Reno to TX. It was super fun! However it had been close to 6-7 years since I had seen my brother John and his beautiful family. THey are all such kind and loving people. Again, I wish we all lived closer!
Another person I was able to reconnect with in person this year is Richard Barron, photographer. I have known Richard since my sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma. It had been about three years since I had last seen him.
This year we met in Taos, NM. He and his wife Abby drove in from Oklahoma. They make at least one road trip a year and this was one of them. I drove down from Utah.
It was great to see them both and it was equally great to complete the task that brought us to Taos to begin with – to summit Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in NM at 13,124 feet.
It was magnificently wonderful to hike the mountain with him. Richard is always good company and to hike as comrades made the accomplishment so much better. You can read all about it here.
The final component of the RECONNECTION theme is the places that I reconnected with this past year. I am highlighting three major places for this: Cancun, Myrtle Beach and Tulsa.
My only other trip to Cancun was 1991, over 30 years ago. I organized a trip for students in my Spanish class and we had any amazing trip to the entire Yucatan Peninsula. The difference between the tourist elements back then are stark. It was hard to recognize everything from the airport to the beaches and entire coastline.
Just like my visit 30 years ago, Ann and I also went to Chichen Itza, an ancient Mayan city in the jungle. It is a mystical place. When I was there the first time with my students, we were able to climb everything and go to the top of the temple. Now they no longer allow that. Also, on my first visit, there was only 10-20 people at the site. This time, probably close to 1,000. You can read more about the Cancun trip here.
The next place of reconnection is Myrtle Beach, SC. I lived in SC from 2006-2008. At the time, I wasn’t really wild about it. However, on this trip, it was quite different and MUCH BETTER than it was 13 years before.
The beach was simply magical and the attractions were nice as well. We only were able to be there for about half a day, but we enjoyed the beach and took a helicopter tour. The weather was so nice, we could have stayed for the week!
Now to conclude the last component of the RECONNECTION theme, I want to point out that by going to see Robert three times this year, I was also able to reconnect with Tulsa and my high school home town of Broken Arrow. In fact, I was visiting Broken Arrow while the Rooster Day Parade and associated activities were taking place.
Of course, Rooster Day does not mean anything to anyone who has not lived in Broken Arrow. It is their annual town festival. In 1986, Robert and I were in the parade after having appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. You can read more about that here.
After having spent so much time in the Tulsa area this year, I was both encouraged and a bit sad. I was encouraged because the area is still chock full of very nice people. I was a bit sad because so much of my old stomping grounds looked so tired and neglected.
Speaking of Tulsa, one of the things that I really loved about it was the River Parks area. On my last visit, I was able to enjoy one of my favorite things – a sunset at the River Park.
RECONNECTING WITH MYSELF
2021 was a year of big growth for my “true self”, using a term I learned from Deepak Chopra. I did a lot of reading and meditating this year. As a result I have increased my awareness of two things. First, I grew my overall understanding of who and why I am. Second, I learned there is SO MUCH more for me to learn about me.
One of the outcomes of this, was the creation of my ENCOURAGEMENT PAGE here on The Umenum. On this page you can find about 100 short posts with videos that are usually about 1-minute long. The topics vary but they all are intended to eb encouraging.
I want to be clear, I did not make these videos for anyone else other than me. They are a reminder of some of things I have learned during the year. It would only increase my blessing if someone else found value in some of the videos as well.
To the right is a photo of the my book graveyard for the year. There are a few missing, but this gives a good idea. They were all terrific, however, I am going to give the top awards to FINDING THE MOTHER TREE by Suzanne Simard and to TOTAL MEDITATION by Deepak Chopra, which I read 3 times.
I was totally caught off guard by how much I was totally mesmerized by FINDING THE MOTHER TREE. I could not get enough of it! I had an intellectual and an emotional connection to it. I have not looked at trees and forests the same way since reading it.
Re-reading TOTAL MEDITATION gave me the spark to begin meditation in earnest. My favorite meditations were the ones that I did outside in nature or on the trail. This also connects with the next theme, STAYING CONNECTED WITH NATURE.
STAYING CONNECTED WITH NATURE
Connecting with nature is also part of connecting with myself. After all, we are all part of nature. For me, while BEING in nature, I feel more a PART of nature. Makes sense.
Being in nature helps me better understand the world I live in and the world in which I WANT to live. It provides both a uniting and dividing of my true self and my world-based self. Interestingly enough, it has help me better accept both.
The most common way I connected with nature was to go out into my beautiful Utah surroundings and hike the mountainous terrain. Within 15 minutes of my house, I have amazing trails. With 3-ish hours of my house, I have some of world’s best hiking terrain.
I hiked EVERY DAY in May, June and July. Sometimes it was twice a day. Below are my hiking stats that were recorded in All Trails. It is not 100% accurate because sometimes I would forget to start it and sometimes I would forget to stop it. It is generally close though.
A few of my favorite nature pix from the year. Literally, I have thousands. It was hard to whittle it down to these select few. If you are interested in seeing more, please peruse my blog. (The one of me stuck in the snow is a photo by Richard Barron.)
SOAKING IN FAMILY MILESTONES
If you know me or are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I have 7 living children, eight total. One child died at birth. They range from ages 17-29.
It’s not hard to imagine that there is always something going on with at least one of them.
Below, I will work my way down from oldest to youngest.
Up first is my son Elias and his family. Elias is in the Army and he passed the selection process to get into Special Forces. He is at Fort Bragg in NC.
They moved this year and that was challenging for them with a 6 year old and an 8 year old. Jude and Ellie are literally two of the cutest children ever. Ellie has made so many milestones in dance this year and Jude started kindergarten.
Folllowing Elias is my son Harrisen. There have been several changes for him this year. He moved from Utah to Oregon with his girlfriend in January. The area was beautiful of course, but they longed to be closer to home. So they came back in June.
That did not bother me one bit!
You can see that Harrisen’s arms are pretty huge. He is turning in a massive chunk of muscles with legs. He deadlifted 495 pounds this year. Yes, that is FOUR HUNDRED NINETY_FIVE pounds. That is crazy, keeeeey-raaaaay-zeeeee! He also squatted 405. You can see videos of both below.
Stensen is the next oldest son. Stensen has a calm, loving heart and is one of the kindest people on the planet, most of the time. He started a new job at Barnes and Nobles, and since he is a voracious reader, he is in hog heaven. He works with books all days, gets to buy them for a great price, and then comes homes and reads through like a hot knife through butter.
I don’t have tons of pix of Stensen as he is not a big fan of them.
Yana is next in line on this journey from eldest to youngest. She had quite a finish to the year. Within a period of a few weeks she became engaged to be married and also graduated her B.A. degree in Political Science with an emphasis on Peace and Justice Studies.
Yana’s fiance is named Joseph. He is a terrific young man. He is bright, funny and has great taste in women! They are planning to married on 2-22-22 at 22:22 in the evening, which happens to be on a Tuesday. See the theme there?
Yana has been through a challenging life journey and this milestone is a huge one for her, our family and her future family! Below is the picture and post she put up after her last class.
Next in line in Mariana.
Mariana had several big milestones in 2021. She found a terrific job with a company called Lime. She moved into a house with her BF, she graduated from Yoga school and she took a trip to Morocco, of all places.
She is growing tons right night and learning a lot about many aspects of life. She is a super strong young woman with a very strong independent spirit.
Last but certainly not least are the twins Juju and Riri. Technically, Juju is about 2 minutes older than Riri.
Both of these lovely ladies are Seniors in high school. Everyone in the family keeps saying they can’t believe they are seniors. But it is true!
For their birthday this year, they went at the same time to get their belly buttons pierced. Thet were so happy about it.
I must share one more unique happening this year. Juju has been a cheerleader for 4 years. Well this year she is also…get this…WRESTLING on her high school team!
It came totally out of the blue. You can read all about it here.
That covers the 4 themes: Reconnecting with People and Places, Reconnecting with Myself, Staying Connected with Nature, and Soaking in Family Milestones.
As you can see, it has been very busy and productive year.
This was my most prolific year of blog posts with 135. That averages to little more than 1 every 3 days. Interestingly enough, while my posts were almost more than 50 from the prior year, my views were down from last year. I had about 1,200 fewer views in 2021 and a bit over 300 fewer overall visitors. With 135 posts, I had just 9 comments for the year. I am not sure that that means or if I even care, but it does seem a bit low.
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
- Favorite Book(s): Finding the Mother Tree, Total Meditation, and a surprise with THE SUM OF US.
- Favorite Food: Frank’s Homemade Sausage Biscuits, the same dish, but this one from Fina’s Diner in Chama, NM and the steaks that Ann and I made at home. (You can read about the steaks here)
- Favorite Beverage: A Greenie smoothie from Ivie Juicebar here in UT. (Just happens both Juju and Riri work at Ivie.)
- Favorite TV Shows: Better Call Saul and Ted Lasso.
- Favorite Season: This year, hands down, Fall stole the show here in UT. The leaves were insane and the pix were low hanging fruit. There severals post here on The Umenum where you can see what I am talking about: Here, and here and here and here and here.
- Favorite Phrase: I love who I am when I am with you.
- Best Live Concert: Brave Combo live at Westfest21.
- Best NEW Album: Red (Taylor’s Version)
- Favorite Happening of the Year: Seeing my daughter Juju wrestle. (You can read all about it here.)
- Greatest Accomplisment: My daughter Yana graduating from college.
- Best Christmas Gift: Santa brought me some waders. See video below!