Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 was blessed for us ... Happy New Year

      In preparation to write this year-end wrapup, I had to consult my daily gratitude journal to review the highlights of our 2014. That was fun, and I'll get to some of that in a moment, but I can sum it up: We had a blessed year.
     Didn't need to look up the date of the best day of the year. That was Sept. 19 -- my mother's birthdate and the day Eli Smith -- our fourth grandchild -- was born.
Rachel posted this on Facebook on Tuesday
     That was a "wow" day, a nervous day for me, but what a thrill when Rachel, just a few minutes after delivering beautifully and surprisingly quickly, posted the first photo of Eli on Facebook with Bea and me looking at it while sitting in the waiting room. "There he is!" I exclaimed.  
     It was a joy, too, to see older sister Josie, then about to turn 7, come bouncing into the hospital room a couple of hours later with the Smith grandparents and take her turn holding Mr. Eli. They've made a great pair these past three-plus months, and Josie -- as she reminds us -- can read. Plus, she's writing books and magazines (I'm not kidding).
     But we get just as much joy -- and laughs -- from our first two grandsons. This year we watched them in swimming lessons and play on soccer teams for the first time, and Jacob went to kindergarten and Kaden gets into all kinds of mischief -- and keeps smiling.
     Obviously, those kids and their parents are what make every year wonderful for us. But there's so much more. We enjoy our lives as senior citizens here in Fort Worth.
     And before I go further, I am going to announce that we intend to get younger next year. (More on that at the end.)
     We attended a half-dozen entertaining Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Pops Series concerts at Bass Hall; among the best, the music of John Williams and then Marvin Hamlisch. But the highlight was Bea's favorites (and birthday present), the Gala with world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma. We went to Sundance Square for a Van Cliburn Tribute on the one-year anniversary of his death.
     We went to UT-Arlington for Maverick Speaker Series sessions featuring Anderson Cooper, James Carville and Mary Matalin, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Nina Totenberg, Bill Rasmussen. Plus, there were old movies and jazz concerts and one piano concert at the Fort Worth Central Library.
    A great year for book reading; between printed books, the Kindle and -- thanks to our daughter's influence -- audio books (on our lengthy trips), plus the Beth-El monthly book club, I probably totaled more books than I have in three or four decades.
    We kept upgrading with new stuff: In our apartment, carpets in the bedrooms; wood flooring everywhere else; bedroom blinds; our first flat-screen TV, boxes for the U-Verse; brown shoes and a beige lightweight suit for me; beautiful scarves, a royal blue dress and a yoga outfit for Bea.
    The biggest change of all, maybe, smartphones for both of us -- Bea's first. This was done much to her dismay, and the (unexpected) change from IPhone to Android wasn't easy. (Now she says she's learned to appreciate her phone.)
    Our big trip of the year -- remember, it was my home country, The Netherlands, in 2013 -- was the long drive to Savannah, Georgia, for the spring wedding of our niece Abby (my sister Elsa's daughter). Beautiful event, beautiful and historic place.
    That also led to the first of three trips to Knoxville (Rachel and Russell's home, and we lived there in the late 1990s). Back in September for the week's wait for Eli; then we had to go back and see him again Thanksgiving week.
    One enjoyable week was Rachel and Josie's annual stay with us. And how about those nights when Jacob and Kaden -- who live an hour away -- were here? Kaden, only 2 then, was a little unsettled a year ago, so he stayed up and watched all of the Sugar Bowl game with me.
    There were a couple of trips to see family and old friends in Shreveport-Bossier. The first, on Jan. 3, I made for the funerals of J.W. Cook and Ann Thaxton on the same day; the second was Aug. 1 when Coach A.L. Williams was among those inducted into an athletic Hall of Fame (his second honor of the year).
    We loved going to an early Shaw Family Thanksgiving in central Texas (Bea was a Shaw). On a few occasions, I reconnected with old friends -- some from Louisiana Tech, some from my newspaper past, some on Facebook -- and we made some new friends right here in the apartments and in Fort Worth.
    We are grateful for our family and friends, always.
    One of the best things of the year was -- I'm sure most will agree -- the rapid fall in gas prices. When they get down to 29 cents a gallon, I know we really will be back in the great decade of the 1960s.
    I have grown to like Facebook -- despite too much negative/political commentary -- and in particular the Throwback Thursday photos. I got into Twitter, too, where news and opinion is instantaneous. And television remains a big part of our lives.
    This year's TV highlights for me: the Barbara Walters retirement/goodbye; the Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga  special on PBS; specials on Bing Crosby, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Big Bands as part of KERA (public TV) fund-raising periods; and the tops: A Football Life on Roger "The Dodger" Staubach on the NFL Network. 
    One special video, found through Facebook (and re-posted): A recap of our Woodlawn High School buddy, LSU quarterback and Vietnam War victim Trey Prather, done by Rick Rowe of KTBS-TV in Shreveport.
    We're still Dancing With The Stars fans and Season 19 this fall provided two memorable moments: (1) the night Alfonso Ribeiro Jr. did "The Carlton" dance he made famous years ago on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and (2) when he and partner Witney Carson won the competition, as I predicted at the first of the season.
     I watched more college football and the NCAA men's basketball tournament than I have in years -- it was as exciting, or more, than I can remember -- and I watched less baseball ... until the playoffs. They were fabulous; the Kansas City Royals were a tremendous story but could not conquer the San Francisco Giants, the every-other-year champions. And Madison Bumgarner did a helluva Sandy Koufax impersonation. 
     For me personally, it wasn't much of a sports year. The only real fun the Yankees had was the year-long so-long for Derek Jeter, a class act to the end of his career. But all-Jeter all the time was a bit much. LSU football wasn't what he wanted -- right through Tuesday's bowl-game loss to Notre Dame -- but Louisiana Tech won nine games and was fun to watch in men's basketball. Plus, hiring Tyler Summitt as the women's basketball coach was an attention getter.
     But The Netherlands gave me some thrills, first with an astounding domination of speed skating in the Winter Olympics -- repeated gold-silver-bronze for the Orange team -- and then in the World Cup of Soccer.
     Didn't win it (those Germans did), but Holland didn't lose a game, only a confounded penalty-kick shootout in the semifinals. And there were some great wins in there -- a 5-1 walloping of mighty defending champion Spain, with Robin Van Persie's spectacular flying-header goal, and finally a 3-0 rout of host Brazil. Yeah, the beautiful game.
     Bea continued to watch, love and support her Dallas Mavericks, no matter what.
     One near highlight, right down the street at Colonial Country Club: David Toms of Shreveport led the Colonial golf tournament going into the back nine on Sunday, looking for his second title there in four years. He faded, but as always, it was fun to follow him.
     Back to the Dutch: One of the best gifts I received all year was a Holland World Cup soccer scarf, sent by Ron Nierman. Another good gift: a CD of 1960s/'70s music, 1,100 songs, from Sid Huff. Another one, from Ron: old clippings -- some of my stories/columns -- from my Dad's desk at his workplace.
     Which reminds me of a project I worked on all year: scanning clippings from my writing career and other clippings I'd saved, going from paper to digital. Lots of room on the hard drive, and there's more to do.
     Other projects: Organizing family photos (especially old ones of my parents) into albums and scanning them in digitally, and working on the family genealogy. That was part of the 34-chapter series I completed on my Dad, centered on his Holocaust experiences. 
     They are on my blog, and I will continue blogging next year, although -- obsessive as I can be -- I decided that two blog pieces every week was no longer necessary. So I will write when I want to write ... and I hope you keep reading.
     Might have a surprise, too, if it works out. Stay tuned.
     No year is without losses, and some were stunning: Robin Williams on Aug. 11 and then Jimmy Moore, son of good friends.
     More personal deaths: High school friends Tommy Watson and Terry Rice; family friends Sylvia Katz and Herb Broughton; the funny David DeFatta; journalism stars Wiley Hilburn Jr., Jeff Fries and Bobby Dower; and Mr. Bill Bradshaw, father of a famous quarterback. Have to add this one: daughter-in-law's old dog Keeley.
     Feel for those friends who became widows or widowers.
     I kept walking, and had some big-money finds: 98 pennies in one place one day, a $10 bill, a bronze dollar one day and a silver half-dollar two days later, and just last week, eight quarters right by the curb on a major street in this area.
     But it's not about money, it's about exercising, which -- finally -- brings me to being younger next year. That's the name of a book Bea has been reading, and on which we heard a presentation, and I have started it, and the emphasis is on mind-set of an active, healthy lifestyle.
     So Bea has stepped up her exercise routine -- including strength work and stamina, and yoga -- and she encouraged me to join the Downtown YMCA, located about a minute's walk from where I worked for nine years (and I'd never been in the building).
     The intention is to work harder and tone up the body and maybe lose weight. Not 30-35 pounds like a certain sports editor I know who has been on the run for three years, but I'd settle for 3-8 pounds, which would get me in the 150-155 range. 
     I know you are laughing now. And by the time you finish reading this, it might be 2016. Have a Happy New Year.                    


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