Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Super soakers of the sky

Anyone want a drink?
Minneapolis, MN, February 2011
About this photo: Thematic Photographic celebrates "well aged" this week. If you've got something old hanging around, please take a picture of it and head here. You'll be glad you did.
Water towers don't just keep water in reserve for communities that need it. They serve as beacons on the landscape, guiding us from town to town and reminding us just how soothing it can be to arrive in a place, any place, after wandering the hinterlands.

And we've been wandering our hinterlands for most of our married life. Ever since we moved nine hours west of where we grew up, we've become all too used to the seemingly endless drives along the 401, the busiest highway in Canada and, arguably, in North America, too. There's a rhythm to this roadway and the places it connects, oases of life in the rolling green that is Ontario, long stretches of sparseness punctuated by impossibly small, close-knit towns where complete strangers would be happy to have you stay with them if your car dies, the weather turns bad, or worse.

We've driven this road back and forth, in sickness and in health, good weather and bad, enough times that we've practically memorized every onramp and exit, every town, even every curve. And it's always the water towers that stand out, that tell us how many miles are left, and what's there for us along the way. They don't just hold water; they shrink the distance, and they bring me a tiny dose of comfort when I spot them in the distance.

Your turn: Touchstones far from home. Please discuss.

About this water tower: I haven't been able to shoot any of the water towers along the 401 because I'm usually driving at the time, and Officer Bob - and quite likely my wife, as well - would not approve of behind-the-wheel photography. So I'll share this one that occupies a prime piece of sky on the roof of a lovingly restored building in Minneapolis with a commanding view of Target Field. When the Minnesota Twins play, the owners use it as a giant projector screen for the fans. Neat.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thematic Photographic 148 - Well Aged

All in all we're just another brick in the wall
London, ON, May 2011

Everything, and everyone, gets old eventually. We can soften the blow by shifting our language to more politically correct terminology - senior citizen, anyone? - but time doesn't care what we call it. Everything, and everyone, has its time, and it's up to us to make the best out of whatever we've been gifted.

Our mistake lies in assuming that beauty is strictly the domain of the young. There are compelling stories to be told in the things and in the people who've been around long enough to have a bit of experience. We just have to take the time to look for them. And to stretch our perceptions a little in the process.

Over the next week, I'm hoping this new Thematic theme will give us precisely that opportunity. "Well aged" can be a structure that's seen better days, a person who's got more years behind than ahead, anything that evokes thoughts of age and time. As always, it's up to you to decide how to interpret and reflect the theme. It's all up to you.

Your turn: If you're new to Thematic, click here. Otherwise, post a similarly-themed pic - or find something that's already been posted - and leave a comment here. Pop by other participants' sites to share the joy. Repeat if you wish...we encourage that sort of thing around here. The goal? To enjoy and learn.

Blue light special, aisle 4

Ready for launch
Minneapolis, MN, February 2011
About this photo: This picture closes out our "got the blues" theme, and we'll be launching a new one, "well aged", tonight at 7:00 Eastern. If you're feeling a little blue at the prospect, it's not too late to share your own. Just go here.
I found this blue light at the airport, and I instantly thought "K-Mart". Never mind that almost no one shops there - or admits to it - anymore, and that about six people on the planet still think it's funny when I say "blue light special" in the middle of a conversation. I guess I need a new source of retail-themed funniness.

On this day, though, I believe the sight of a guy pulling out a camera in the middle of the terminal gave more than a few of my fellow passengers pause. I know airports are particularly sensitive to the whole photography thing, and some even ban the practice outright (see here, here and here for unhappy precedents.) But I figure as long as I'm pointing my lens at light fixtures outside and not TSA security personnel, I'm probably safe.

And if I ever get busted, it'll make for a great blog entry or two.

Your turn: What does this light do? Any ideas?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On broken people

The brutal irony of this particular quote has never been lost on me. Hemingway was, and is, a huge influence on my writer's voice. That he led the life he did and ultimately ended it so violently has long made me wonder about the demons that tormented him - and adds a particularly poignant and ironic twist to his words here.
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger in the broken places."
Ernest Hemingway
Your turn: How are we strengthened by adversity?

Colorful girl

From my daughter's mind
London, ON, February 2009
[Click here for more blue-themed Thematic]

My artistic abilities rank somewhere between none and stick figures. There's a reason I use word processing software and cameras to create stuff: I'm patently incapable of doing it solo.

My wife and daughter? Quite the opposite. They draw, they paint, they create loveliness with their bare hands. I don't know how they do it, but I'm glad they do, because our house is filled with artistic surprises almost wherever you look.

Which reminds me, I need to get cracking hanging more of it on our walls. I'm being gently reminded that I've fallen well behind in this area. Where's my hammer?

Your turn: Do you hang your own art in your house? Do tell! (Bonus points if you've got a picture of it...)

One more thing: This a canvas my daughter painted a couple of years ago. If you follow me on Twitter (@carmilevy), it may look familiar as it serves as my homepage backdrop.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On home

"Home. The word circled comfortably in my mouth like bubble gum, swished around sweetly soft and satisfying. Home. Try saying it aloud to yourself. Home. Isn’t it like taking a bite of something lovely? If only we could eat words."
Sol Luckman
Your turn: How do you define "home"?

Stairway to heaven?

Leave it out back
London, ON, May 2011
About this photo: Thematic is still singin' the blues, and you can, too, by following your mouse here.
As much as humans are social creatures, there's something to be said for getting away from it all - and from each other. When I need to be alone, I either take off on my bike, or I go for a long walk. When it's just you and your thoughts, the challenges of life seem a lot easier to bite off and chew. I don't do this enough, and that needs to change.

On this evening, downtown London was my playground. I had about an hour to kill - a rare treat in my scheduled-by-the-minute life - so I set the BlackBerry to silent and headed for the shadowy alleys that strangely never show up in tourist brochures. For some odd reason, I never seem to encounter actual people in these places (I know, probably a good thing) but as you can see from the shot above, there's always plenty of evidence that someone was here not too long ago.

There's a strange sense of order to these hidden-away places, and it's almost an invitation to spend more time here, to look at the side of the city most people never see. In getting away from it all, I seem to have stumbled on another way to remain connected. Odd, that.

Your turn: I think this picture tells a story. What is it?

Friday, May 27, 2011

On the power of small

When I was a kid, I remember absorbing a an endless wave of advice from adults. Mostly from my parents, of course, but also from teachers, family, community members, friends, the guy who camped out at the entrance to the Metro station with a harmonica...you name it and they were only too happy to guide me.

"Don't sweat the small stuff" was a common snippet, and it was also the one that never quite sat right with me. If anything, the small stuff was the stuff I could wrap my little hands around. It was the stuff I could see from end to end. It was the stuff I could control.

I eventually learned to disobey my elders. Now that I'm all grown up, I'm going to look for the guy at the Metro station and let him know that the small stuff is really where it's at. I may yet share this quote with him:
"Faith in small things has repercussions that ripple all the way out. In a huge dark room a little match can light up the place."
Joni Eareckson Tada
Your turn: Do you sweat the small stuff? How?

One more thing: I sometimes include links to the authors of the quotes I share here. This one is particularly inspirational, and I hope you follow it home.

8 ball, corner pocket

Cued up
London, ON, April 2011
[Click photo to enlarge. Click here for more Thematic blue]

At first glance, this may seem like a green picture. It is, of course, but our discussion this morning isn't about first glances. It's about what we see when we linger a little longer, when we take the time to look a little more deeply, to read the story behind the story.

In this case, that meta-story is the chalky blue dot at the tip of the pool cue. Well, to me, anyway. Because green is the easy color when thinking about pool (okay, my British friends, billiards.) Blue? Not so much. And I've always been about rooting for the underdog.

Maybe I'm overthinking this. Maybe I just like the depth of field in this shot. Or the shadows on the tip of the cue. Or the sense of peace I feel when I see this pic. Not everything needs to be dissected, after all. Sometimes, it's enough to just enjoy the sight.

Your turn: Three words to describe this photo. Go...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On strength

"Real strength is not just a condition of one's muscle, but a tenderness in one's spirit."
McCallister Dodds
Your turn: How do you exhibit tenderness in your own spirit?

Old. Not obsolete.

Windows and light
London, ON, May 2011
[Click here for more Thematic blue]

I'm lucky enough to live in a burg where the century-old architecture has largely not fallen victim to the wrecker's ball. It's a place that, if it doesn't rise to the occasion every time an opportunity to save a treasure comes up, well, it doesn't deliberately pave it all over, either.

Which leaves an ample number of discoveries like this one, visual snippets that remind you to make more time for exploration, reflection and thought. Pieces of history that quietly shape the way we lead our day-to-day lives. And small businesses - City Lights is quite possibly the region's top independent bookstore, a virtual hub of social media and community-building goodness.

As I stood in the late-afternoon greyness and wondered what kinds of scenes these buildings, and the people who lived and worked in them so long ago, must have witnessed, I wondered if they'd be here another hundred years, and who would be standing in this spot in the future, wondering much the same thing.

It wasn't a major deal to stand there and stare at a line of building frontage. But in its smallness and ordinariness, I found a strange sense of peace.

And all because I wanted to take a few pictures that day. Neat.

Your turn: So what did these buildings witness? Make something up, k?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On leading, not following

"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space."
John F. Kennedy
Your turn: 50 years ago today, JFK laid down his challenge for the moon. Barely 6 weeks from now, the U.S. walks away from its ability to independently put humans into orbit. Returning to the moon? Not even on the radar. Am I the only one who finds this somewhat sad?

My little pony

Shelby would be proud
London, ON, May 2011
About this photo: We're celebrating Thematic's "Got the blues" week all week long, and you're invited, too. Just click here and all will be explained.
I dig cars. I spend my days in the automotive software biz. I drive a couple of vehicles that I genuinely like. My head turns almost automatically when a particularly neat vehicle cruises on past. I spend way too much time excitedly discussing automotive lore with our kids. As much as I whine about how much of our urban landscape has been built to serve the car, I recognize the deep influence it has on our day-to-day lives.

So it's easy to see why a certain percentage of my lens time is spent exploring the world of vehicles. And when this Shelby Mustang convertible showed up in, of all places, the community centre's parking lot, I had to sneak a quick pic before the owner returned and wondered why the strange dude in cargo shorts was shooting his (her?) car.

Nah, had to be a him. This is totally a middle-age crisis-mobile. But I digress.

The neat thing about this supposedly blue vehicle: It's black. Light does funny things when it's bounced off of reflective surfaces. I so rushed the shoot - one shot is all I got before I chickened out - that I didn't notice the color shift until after I got home.

Your turn: Your favorite color for a car is...? Because?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On the preciousness of time

'How you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can be corrected, but time is gone forever.'
David B. Norris

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thematic Photographic 147 - Got the blues

Scene from a diner
London, ON, May 2011

If you've got the blues, then I'm hoping you'll have at least one picture - and hopefully more - to share with us over the course of the next week. "The blues" can mean anything: The color blue, a feeling or tone that suggests subdued sadness, or whatever else you want it to mean. How you interpret the theme is entirely up to you, as there are no rights or wrongs when it comes to Thematic.

This scene is a perfect case in point. Yes, it's got lots of blue in it. But the downtown street corner scene - a gritty, colorful place that almost forces passers-by to become reflective - is what really sets the tone for me. I was in the area for the night-before-election-night rehearsal (see here and here for more on that grand television adventure), and as I had arrived a bit early, I decided to wander the neighborhood with my camera. The light was dim a grey - not ideal for any kind of shooting - but the more I shot, the more I realized how closely the results mimicked my mood: quiet, reflective, thoughtful.

It's what the blues are all about. And now we've got a week to explore them. Enjoy.

Your turn: Please share a blue-themed picture - new or already-posted - on your blog. Then post a comment here. Then visit other participants to share the photographic joy. Repeat as often as you wish throughout the week. If you're new to the Thematic thing, click here. Oh, and have fun. Because that's why we do this.

On bitterness

I'm learning to stop questioning why things happen. Because the why is irrelevant. We can't stop life from playing out its inevitable path. We can, however, choose how we navigate the landscape that results.

In the wake of Joplin, Slave Lake, Sendai and any number of places on the planet currently enduring their own unique challenges from above and beyond, I thought this quote was especially appropriate:

"When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."
Shauna Niequist

Your turn: Thoughts?

One more thing: The new Thematic theme will be "Got the blues," and it launches later tonight. Hope you'll watch for it!

The lay of the land

Near Waterloo, ON, March 2011
[Click photo to enlarge]
About this photo: We're drawing the Thematic aerial theme to a close with this one last look at the earth from on high. If you'd like to share one last view of your own, please click here. Otherwise, tune in tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern for the new theme.
Sometimes, you need to get above it all to understand what it all means. Normally, when I'm cruising the countryside on my bike, I'm busy enough trying to stay upright as cars blast past me at triple-digit speeds, and I just can't afford to take the time to focus on the subtle variations in the adjacent land. It's survival or enjoyment. Not both.

But when someone else is doing the driving - or flying - you have a little more time to take in the view. And on this flight, I saw something I'd never seen before. And for the first time in ages I had no words. There was something delightfully humbling about seeing the gentle rolls in the farmland that were completely invisible from the ground.

I imagined giant sheets of ice receding countless years ago. I imagined forces of creation far more powerful than anything I could ever conjure up. I imagined a planet we're only beginning to understand, a planet that's trying to tell us her stories, one at a time.

If only we'd take the time to listen.

Your turn: What three words come to mind as you first see this shot?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Urban sprawl

A city reaches for the sky
Toronto, ON, March 2011
Please click here for more aerial Thematic goodness

I don't often shoot panoramas, largely because they're the kind of scenes that lie toward the extreme end of the photographic subject bell curve.

That and I have memories of those old, throwaway panorama film cameras that were all the rage when I was, oh, 11 years-old. The pictures that resulted were little more than badly cropped, horridly blown up, optically ridiculous compositions that really could have been shot with a conventional camera. But because they were "panoramas", I was forced to sit politely while my hosts insisted I ooh and ahh over how wonderful the wide-view of Aunt Martha's garden was.

Truth of the matter, Aunt Martha wasn't a great gardener. And anything with "Aunt Martha" and "wide-view" in the same thought-space was really best left to the imagination. Or nothing at all. Because not everything should be recorded on film. Or memory card.

I'm kinda thinking Toronto by air is the exception. It's the biggest city we've got in this country, and it sprawls not-quite-randomly back and out from its lakeside downtown core, just the kind of progression best seen from the sky. As a continuation of this scene, I think it tells another chapter of the story I got to read from above on that late afternoon.

Your turn: Do you do the panorama thing? Why/why not?

On self confidence

"Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at."
Source unknown

Your turn: Do you ever keep things to yourself out of fear of ridicule? What things?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Touch the planet once more

LinkFinal approach
Toronto, ON, March 2011
About this photo: Thematic continues to explore aerial-themed photography, and you're invited along for the ride. Just click here to share your own. We'll be doing this through the weekend, with a new theme launching Monday.
Inevitably, every flight comes back down to Earth. If luck is on your side, it does so in a controlled, gentle manner. The routine nature of modern aviation makes this a virtual certainty whenever you board a plane, of course, but that doesn't stop me from musing about the magic that makes the entire process possible. It'll never get old for me.

The particular plane I had boarded this day was - and presumably still is - a Dash-8. This twin-engine turboprop-powered commuter aircraft was originally designed by deHavilland before that company was bought by Montreal-based Bombardier (they make Ski-Doos, Sea-Doos and the Challenger business jet, among others.) Now known as the Q-Series, this plane has a longstanding reputation as a robust, efficient example of Canadian aviation ingenuity.

One of the neat things about this design is the landing gear. The entire assembly folds out of a position under the wing-mounted engine. Unlike a regular jetliner, where the gear comes out from under the fuselage, this allows passengers to see the machinery at work. Most folks are usually too busy surreptitiously e-mailing their buddies on their iPhones and BlackBerrys to notice, but that doesn't make it any less neat.

It was neat on this day, too, as I held my breath in the final seconds before this magnificent flying machine returned to earth once more. Routine, I know, but still...

Your turn: Something seemingly mundane...that isn't. Please discuss.

Yes, we're still here...

We interrupt discussion of Armageddon, Judgment Day, the Rapture, Harold Camping and his countless mindless followers to inform you that life on planet Earth continues as it has for billions of years, that the non-believers have not been shepherded to a hot, uncomfortable place and that a whole lot of so-called believers are going to spend the next few days explaining why their prophecy didn't come true.

Don't these people have anything better to do?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

On ordinary greatness

"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."
Sir Thomas More
Your turn: An ordinary act that was anything but ordinary. Please discuss.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I am the eye in the sky

Wide angle city
Toronto, ON, March 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Aerial. Still taking submissions. Here.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they take pictures is trying to get too much of the scene into one composition. They compose so widely that they end up including everything and the kitchen sink. The camera never gets close enough to anything to make out any detail. In my mind's eye, I think of pictures of my mother, a speck in the middle of a giant expanse of beach. Or public square. Or park. At least I think that's my mother. Or a speck on the lens.

So as I reviewed the pictures from my recent as-luck-would-have-it flight into Toronto's main airport (Pearson International aka YYZ) and tried to decide which one to share here, the easy thing to do would have been to pick the more tightly composed views of the downtown core. There's nothing like a golden-hour shot of the iconic CN Tower, after all.

But the thing is if you've seen one iconic view, you've seen 'em all. And I hate being derivative. Instead, the first picture I took as we curved eastward, tracing the Lake Ontario coast, is the one I ultimately chose. It was the placeholder, the one that made my heart flutter just a bit as I realized this wasn't just another boring approach, the one that set the stage for whatever came next. Sure, it's wide. But it's got a spirit to it that the more standard compositions lack. Sometimes, you have to look wide to get a feel for a place.

Maybe I should break these old rules more often.

Your turn: Who's down there?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On attitude

This quote sticks with me, because I've always believed it isn't what happens to you that matters, but how you choose to respond to it. Ms. Knowlton says it so much more eloquently than I ever could:

"I discovered I always have choices and sometimes it's only a choice of attitude."
Judith M. Knowlton

Your turn: How do you keep your attitude properly focused when the world deems otherwise?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thematic Photographic 146 - Aerial

Looking into space
Kennedy Space Center, FL, December 2010

Ever been up high? Ever take a picture of the experience? If so, that's the deal with this week's Thematic theme, aerial.

I chose this pic to mark the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final launch this morning from the left-hand tip of the Y (launch pad 39A) in the photo above. The day this photo was taken, her sister ship, Discovery, sat on the pad, awaiting her own launch on her own final flight.

It'll be weird when these places go silent. Doesn't strike me as right.

Your turn: Share an aerial-themed photo of your own on your blog - or find one you've already posted, even long ago - and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants' entries to share the photographic love. For more info on Thematic, click here. The point of all this? To stretch our optical horizons a bit. And to enjoy the experience. Are you game?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the absence of kindness

This quote resonates with me for a whole lot of reasons. I suspect it may resonate with you, too:
"The end never really justifies the meanness."
E. Duane Hulse

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Suspended humanation

George Washington never looked like this
New York, NY, March 2011
About this photo: I keep finding vehicular scenes to share, so I keep posting 'em. Hope that's OK with you. New Thematic goes live tomorrow (Sunday) night. Until then, click here to get your last-minute submissions in. Deadlines don't really apply here.
Shooting* from a car is a sketchy proposition on a good day. But add some cloud, some spitting rain, some smudgy windows, lots of stop-and-go traffic and a pocket camera (temporarily stole it from my wife - please don't tell her) that doesn't much tolerate on-the-move action photography and you've got a recipe for a memory card full of nothingness.

But I tried, anyway, because I had never been on this particular structure, the George Washington Bridge, and I had read about the work of its chief engineer, Othmar Ammann for so long that I wanted to have some kind of memory of the moment. I'm odd that way, but you know that by now. Or soon will.

So, much to the amusement of my colleagues, I randomly shot through the fixed minivan windows as we approached the bridge, and kept shooting as we crept along. I'm sure adjacent motorists were thinking "terrorist", but that didn't stop me, either.

In the end, the results weren't half-bad. They're stark, unintentionally monochrome slices of an iconic piece of American engineering. More importantly, they take me back to a rather light-hearted moment with a great bunch of people, and they give me a slice of reality that I'm able to share with my family - and with you. They remind me why even grey days demand little injections of color wherever we can manage them.

Your turn: How do you turn a grey day into a colorful one?

One more thing: Bonus points for anyone who knows what the heck I'm talking about with the title to this entry.

* Shooting, as in photography. Not, you know, shooting. I've done both. I prefer the lens kind, but I admit feeling an immense sense of power and responsibility when I first pulled the trigger and felt the gun - a Galil assault rifle - recoil. Story for another day, I suppose.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Powered flight

Prepare for landing
Somewhere near Toronto, ON, March 2011
Click photo to embiggen
About this photo: All good things, including Thematic's vehicular theme, must eventually come to an end. I thought I'd wrap things up with this golden-hour-lit view out the window of a Dash-8 on a recent business trip. I took it with my wife's camera. Shhhh. New Thematic theme goes live this weekend on account of the big Blogger outage. Click here to share one last vehicular vision.
I'm easily bored, especially when I'm in the middle of the atmosphere and I have no one to talk to. Having a camera in my hand somehow makes the time tick by a bit faster, somehow gets me to my destination sooner, somehow shrinks the distance between me and home as I count down the hours until I once again return through the front door.

En route photography also reminds me why I got into this picture taking thing in the first place. The SLR stays at home because it's just too big and bulky for a work thing. Instead, my wife's little Fuji gets tucked into my laptop bag. It's small, simple, and more flexible than you can imagine. I'm reminded of how much fun it can be to coax memorable images out of a camera most folks would typically use for basic snaps. I compose, I think, I see my journey in ways I'd miss if I chose to instead bury my nose in the in-flight magazine.

The results won't change the world, of course. But as I watch the late afternoon light play on the well-worn metal that encases the Pratt & Whitney PW100 turboprop engine, I decide it doesn't have to be earth-changing to be worthwhile. I like what I see, and I like how I'm feeling as I stare out the window. So I line up and shoot. Good enough for now.

Your turn: How do you pass the time on a long journey?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On living for today

"Live in the moment and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering."
Fanny Crosby
Assuming Boeing's longest-range jetliner delivered me safely home - well, not quite home, as last I checked my back yard wasn't large enough to accommodate a 10,000-foot runway - I should be sleeping off the mother of all jet lags right about now. Thank you, oh wizards of Google, for allowing this one to auto-post.

It's good to be home. Well, that's what I'd say if I were actually conscious right about now. More when I awake.

Your turn: How will you live in the moment today?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Free parking

Now where did I leave it?
London, ON, April 2011

There are two schools of thought when parking a car in a lot:
  1. You get a spot as close to the door as possible. You cruise up and down the aisles, often multiple times, ready to pounce on a prized spot as soon as the Oldsmobile-driving grandmother of seven vacates it on her way to canasta class. You pull into said spot so quickly that you almost clip the corner of her land yacht. You gloat to your partner as you walk the three steps into the Best Buy, pumping your fist in the air in celebration of the fact that you are The World's Most Awesome Parking Machine.
  2. You head for the furthest abandoned reaches of the parking lot, then park as far away from the nearest car as possible, often resorting to advanced calculus to minimize the potential for some other remote-parking doofus to park within the same zip code as your vehicle. You mark your location with your iPhone's GPS functionality because otherwise you may never find your way back when you're done. You quietly enjoy the hour-long walk into the store, typically holding your partner's hand and sharing stories of your day.
Okay, so I overstate things somewhat to make my admittedly lame point. I think it's clear which side of the parking fence I prefer. Where do you stand?

Get a grip

In or out?
London, ON, April 2011
About this photo: Thematic celebrates vehicular week with our ongoing exploration of the machines that move us. You can share your own, too, by going here.
I'm a believer in the beauty of the ordinary, of the every day. We're often so intent on preparing - and looking - for the major, big bang moments that we tend to forget about the more minor ones. We let them slip past us with barely a second thought.

And what if those big moments never materialize? What then? What have we missed along the way?

So I don't wait, and instead often find myself looking for the memorable in the average moments that mark the average day. Think Kia instead of Ferrari, or grocery store carts instead of jet fighters on afterburner. On the surface, it applies to photography. But a little deeper down, it's about more than a two-dimensional reflection of reality. It's about choosing to live life in the here and now.

Your turn: Something from an ordinary day. Please discuss.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On being alive

"Don't worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

When trucks take to the sky

Defying gravity
London, ON, April 2011
Click here for more vehicular madness

The new skateboard park a few blocks away from our house is already a hotspot for neighborhood kids. When our munchkins are finished playing on the adjacent playground, they like to stop by the concrete bowls and ramps to watch some of the best of the best strut their stuff.

There's an interesting culture among the 'boarders and BMXers who frequent this place. They range in age from barely walking to middle-aged men, all seamlessly taking their turn before ceding to the next. They quietly encourage each other during and after each turn, more experienced riders often taking others aside to share feedback on what worked, what didn't and what they may want to try next.

Someone inevitably has a video camera, while someone else shoots fashion-esque stills from a less-than-safe distance. Note to self: See if any of this stuff ends up edited and on YouTube.

Your turn: What's this kid thinking?

Monday, May 09, 2011

On beginnings

Quick editorial note: I'm going to continue to share Quote of the Day (QOTD) entries, as I like the small zing of thoughtfulness they add to the blog. I am going to drop the "QOTD #" naming convention from the title, however, as I suspect the static title makes things look a little more formal than I'd like. Please let me know what you think. Onward...

As I ponder the meaning of my finishing up one year on the planet and beginning another (yesterday was my birthday...my wife outed me here...Facebook did so here), I find myself reflecting on the preciousness of time. I spent a good chunk of the day simply spending time with my wife, with our kids, with our friends. We ran errands, had a BBQ for dinner, sat around and talked. The phone rang regularly with calls from folks near and far, and my BlackBerry chirped with a similar flow of messaging and social media-borne goodness. I was thankful to be in the middle of it all, that I was able to have a day like this, that I had, and have, a life filled with more than I feel I truly deserve.

Every so often, I'd stop myself in the middle of whatever I was doing, and I just listened. To the kids playing with their friends in the house, to my wife chatting with her mom on the phone, to the dog having a playdate with his buddy. I tried to record not just the sounds, but the feeling of the sounds, the warmth with which they filled the space, and my head. It was a very comforting thing to do.

It was just the kind of day that reminds me why life is fundamentally good, why I need to learn in the coming year to capture the richness of it all just a little bit better.
"Live each day as if your life had just begun." Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
And so I shall. Will you?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A day like any other. And like no other.

It's an interesting day in Levyland. My wife already wrote about my latest revolution of the sun (here), so I'll save y'all the annoyance of hearing any more about me. I'd rather talk about her.

I was privileged to be there when we welcomed our eldest son into the world, and again when his younger sister and brother joined the family. I watched Debbie go from friend to girlfriend to wife to mom. I watched her come alive when a squirming ball of joy known as Zach was first placed in her arms. She was always destined to be a parent, a natural in figuring out what our munchkins needed, what they didn't and how we both needed to navigate whatever it was that they chose to throw at us.

She's my parental GPS, my guide, my force of gravity. Not a day goes by that I don't wonder how she keeps all of our family's balls in the air. Were our roles reversed, I'd be dropping pretty much everything.

Yet she somehow does it without looking like it's difficult. Things Just Get Done. I'll never know her secret, but I'll always be thankful it was her path I crossed, and it was me who she chose.

Happy Mother's Day, sweets. May every other day of the year* be as richly filled with goodness as today promises to be.

Your turn: What is is about moms that makes them so...treasured?

* Tangent alert: Mother's Day is, like so many other days on the calendar, a manufactured holiday, a cheap marketing ploy designed to sell more stuff. I'm not against the concept of valuing mothers (or dads, or love, or even the jolly red guy and the egg-dropping rabbit, if they float your boat), but I do feel somewhat uncomfortable when quite legitimate sentiments are force-fed to us in the interest of filling more boats with inventory and more cash registers with plasticized cash.

From where I sit, this regularly scheduled commercial imperative takes the focus off of the thing that matters and instead puts it squarely on the gift, the thing you buy, the guilt that wraps around you if you don't. And what of the other 364 days? Well, Mother's Day coverage doesn't deal with those: all that matters is today.

Not in my world. Every day matters. And while it's nice to have one day where you make a special effort to remember, it's even nicer to find small ways to deliver the same message every other day of the year. Because if you save it up for this one day, you're kinda missing the point.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

City with a heart

Worn with pride
Deerfield Beach, December 2005
About this photo: It's Thematic's vehicular week, and we're asking everyone who drops by to share a similarly-themed pic. Because we're needy that way. Click here if you're in.
I grew up in this city, and 14 years after we left it behind in our rear-view mirror, it still tugs on our heartstrings more than a little. Montreal wasn't just a place where we lived. It defined us, and continues to influence us in ways big and small.

Strange, that.

When I was a little one, cars got new license plates front and rear every year. Eventually, the bean counters got rid of the front plate, and then switched to the sticker system. The result: Hideously rusted plates after a few years, and a gaping hole where the plate used to go in the front.

So some creative promotions folks at Montreal radio station CJAD came up with the "Montreal: City with a heart" campaign, and built a long-running series of contests around it. If you were a loyal listener - they existed back then, really - you'd slap one of these plates on your car and hope the spotter van would see you sitting in traffic. The prizes were typically Canadian-lame (ooh, an oven mitt set from Caplan-Duvall in the Cavendish Mall!) but it was great fun all the same. And the iconography of this plate eventually became embedded in anglophone culture more than any bumper sticker ever could, or did.

So it was a nice moment when, years later, I walked past this car in a South Florida parking lot and stopped in my tracks. Some things aren't remembered as much as they're felt. Nice to run back into a slice of my childhood, however cheesy it may have originally seemed.

Your turn: Why does nostalgia hold such sway over us?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Thematic Photographic 145 - Vehicular

London, ON, April 2011

In this age of spiking fuel prices, uncertainty over where that fuel will come from in future and continued debate over what forms of locomotion will replace the good old internal combustion engine, it's kind of nice to know that the simple practice of appreciating the car for what it is - a rolling piece of engineering, art and science all rolled into one - is as popular today as it's always been.

I still view car ownership as a daunting prospect, one that today's sub/exurban zoning orgy has made a virtual necessity for too many people. I'd walk, bike or bus/rapid-transit everywhere if I could. But I can't because cities and lives just aren't built that way. So I drive. A little reluctantly.

But that doesn't mean I can't walk slowly around a car, any car, and take in the subtleties of its shape for the first time. It's great exercise for the mind, a way to force it to recognize - and capture - tiny details that most others might miss.

Which is what I hope you'll do over the next week as part of our latest Thematic theme, vehicular. If it has anything to do with a car or any other kind of vehicle, please shoot it and share it. It won't solve the world's energy woes, but it'll make you smile all the same.

Your turn: Post a vehicular-themed pic on your blog - or find something you may already have shared online. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Drop by other participants. Repeat. Call your friends and drag them kicking and screaming over here. Have them read this if they're new to the Thematic thing.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

QOTD #28 - On supporting our troops

"People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
George Orwell

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Happiness at altitude

Fun finger food
Somewhere in the stratosphere, March 2011
About this photo: Thematic explores "happiness is..." this week. You can, too, by clicking here.
Airline travel has devolved significantly from its early days, when taking to the skies was seen as a sumptuously glamorous act largely reserved for those who could afford it. Kids aspired to be pilots, parents wore suits, ties and dresses, and a trip on a plane was special, an event in and of itself.

Today? Not so much. Post-9/11, post-shoe-bomber, post-post-Osama Bin Laden security protocols have turned a trip through the airport into something that would make a dairy cow feel right at home. We no longer travel as much as we run an endless gauntlet of security checkpoints, surly airline employees and automaton-like flyers who, just like you, simply want to arrive more or less on time and more or less in one piece.

Depressing as it seems, I don't much subscribe to the notion that we have to be powerless victims of this new aviation world order. We can't do anything about latex glove-wearing security agents feeling up our privates because we dared to forget to remove the toothpaste from the outer pocket of our carry-on bag, but we can still try to find joy along the way.

So as I sat in my window seat on the way home and idly stared at my little baggie of complimentary pretzels, I decided to see whether or not the bag contained enough pieces to make a happy face. As you can see, I came up slightly short, but I still managed to carve out five minutes of relative innocence before I had to start filling out my customs form and otherwise prepare for the next drudge-filled slog through the airport.

I know the lady next to me was staring through barely closed eyelids, pretending she wasn't paying attention when we both knew she was. But if my playing-with-food moment gave her a slightly light-hearted moment in the middle of an otherwise dark experience, it was well worth it.

And, yes, the pretzels tasted better. I'm not sure how.

Your turn: How do you find joy in the midst of places and times that seem to contain none?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

QOTD #27 - On the power of attitude

You'd swear the Apocalypse is upon our nation now that the election night hangover is beginning to give way to a more sober assessment of what the next four-ish years might look like in Canadastan.

I question all politicians' motives equally - my journalist's DNA, I think - so I don't share the alarmist view. We'd be equally and alternately screwed or advantaged no matter who won, who lost and what political stripes they wore. In the receding shadows of the night before, it is what it is. And as I posted this morning, how we choose to navigate this period is entirely up to us. Looks like a certain playwright from long ago came to a similar conclusion:
"There is no good or bad, only thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare

She moos, she scores

Game on
London, ON, October 2009

After one of the more divisive election campaigns in recent memory, Canada has woken up to a Conservative majority government. Stephen Harper remains our PM, and the twittersphere, blogosphere and Facebookland have all lit up with comments from folks on all sides of the political spectrum.

While more folks clearly voted Tory blue (which isn't really Tory blue at all, but we'll leave that discussion for another, more politically motivated entry), it seems the ones screaming the loudest voted for the, um, losers. Lots of bummed folks in Pitkinville today.

Allow me a quick level-set before I get on with the day that will be: Canada is not doomed. Your standard of living didn't plummet overnight, nor will it do so over the next few days. Or at all. The world didn't shift on its axis. You don't live in Somalia, a failed nation-state with no law to speak of. Your kids will more than likely grow up into productive adults. Your sewage doesn't pour into a gutter in front of your tin-clad "house". Whoever leads us, we're way better off than virtually any nation on Earth.

There, I feel better. And in case that didn't do the trick for you, allow me to present this happy picture of a happy, sporting cow. Because every day should begin with something bovine.

Your turn: Why are you thankful for where you live?

One more thing: Shameless happy Thematic tie-in here. You know you want to.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Vote early. Vote often. But vote.

I probably didn't have time to vote today. Had a lot on my plate workwise and lifewise, and really could have used a little less time-stress as I moved from one thing to another - and yet another - on my schedule.

But 154 dead Canadians in Afghanistan are only the latest reminders of why my right to pick up a pencil and scratch an X on a ballot is a privilege that has limitless value. My daughter has every right to pursue the life she wishes while girls just like her a world away are treated like something less than human. We are so awash in opportunity here that we fail to take the time to appreciate what it took to achieve it. We take what we've got for granted, to the point that over 40% of us can't be bothered to head over to the polling station to vote.

We argue that politicians fail to speak for us. That campaigning - and the entire political process - has devolved into unspeakable nastiness that has nothing to do with the issues. We complain about minority governments and gridlock on Parliament Hill. I don't disagree with any of it. But those who choose to stay home perpetuate the things about democracy that bother them. Worse, they fail to respect the legacy of those who fought - and died - for all we have today.

So I made the time. If you're an eligible Canadian voter, I hope you make it, too. Polls close at 9:30 p.m. local time.

Your turn: Why do you vote? If you don't, why don't you?

One more thing: I'll be on-air with /A\ News tonight, live-blogging/tweeting/broadcasting the vote with a team of London's top social media experts. Tara Overholt leads our coverage from the Internet Cafe site, while anchor Dan MacLellan holds the fort back at the main studio. Click here for more background. Other ways to get involved:
  • Like us on Facebook (canadavotes).
  • Follow us (@atvnewslondon) on Twitter.
  • Search for our hashtag: #anewsvote
  • Or just get involved any way you wish. It'll be fun.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Terror lives.

I'm not supposed to feel happiness when someone dies, but I'll make an exception this time out. News that 9/11 mastermind and Al-Queida founder and leader Osama Bin was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces on Sunday will doubtless be greeted with endless glee around the world. After all, it's difficult to feel sadness at the loss of someone who devoted his life to killing innocents. He brought untold misery to the world, so his removal from it isn't necessarily a sad occasion.

But let's not fool ourselves. He may have been the grand poobah of the world's highest profile terorist organization. But he was - and always will be - a cockroach. A large one, but still a cockroach. And if you kill one, you've still got countless others just like it skittering every which way.

In announcing the news, President Obama said, "Justice has been done." I'm not entirely sure that's the case. There can never be anything approaching justice for the thousands of innocents slaughtered simply because they chose to go to work on that terrible day almost 10 years ago. This doesn't get them back. But it'll have to do.

We delude ourselves if we think the so-called war on terrorism is over. It isn't, and I doubt it ever will be. Terrorism remains a persistent threat. Humans retain an unfathomable ability to hate. One deranged man's death doesn't change any of this, and there are plenty of others out there perfectly willing to pick up this cretin's baton. At best, we've opened a new chapter in a book none of us ever wanted to read.

Your turn: Thoughts?