Sunday, January 31, 2010

Drink up

Glass way more than half full
Laval, QC, December 2009

Photography need not be momentous. It doesn't necessarily have to mark a major milestone in anyone's life. A picture doesn't need hours of preparation to be worth keeping.

Sometimes, it's just enough to capture a small slice from an otherwise unremarkable day in the life.

Because every day is remarkable in its own right.

Your turn: Please share an ordinary moment from your own day. (And click here if you'd like to share your own "water in any form"-themed photo.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A watched pot never boils

Delray Beach, FL, December 2009
About this photo: Our Thematic Photographic "water in any form" theme continues its journey, and you can be a part of it, too, by letting your mouse follow this link.
Sometimes, a direct shot of something is too easy. Sometimes, you feel more than a little abstract, so only an abstract photo will hit that sweet spot in your mind and make you feel all is right with the world. Or so I hope. In this case, I didn't just want to share a pic of one form or other of dihydrogen oxide. Rather, I wanted to illustrate that the vessel within which it is held is often just as important.

Or perhaps I just liked the line of the pot. Or was it the way it reflected the light? Meh, I can't decide.

Yup, I've had a lot on my mind of late. Maybe I'll tell you a story when I have a moment...

Your turn: Is there any truth to the "watched pot never boils" thing? Or was my mother pulling my leg all those years?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Walking in the reflective surf

In the late afternoon sun
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic...blah, blah..."water in any form"...blah, blah...have fun with it by going here!
I think I need to move somewhere closer to a large, preferably oceanic body of water. I live less than an hour's drive from two Great Lakes, but somehow, the lack of major waves and eye-stinging salt takes away from the epic feel of the place when you stand in that incredible spot where land gives way to water. There's a feeling you get when waves wash over your ankles that's unique to a big beach on a big ocean. My life doesn't fit this now, but I hope someday it will.

The realities of life, however, didn't stop me from spending some much-needed creative time in the surf on this, the last day of the year. The light was terrible - muddy overcast that got brighter and darker almost by the second thanks to the unpredictable and fast-moving cloud cover - but given how rarely I get here, I didn't want to let that stop me. So I wandered into the crashing waves and started shooting.

It didn't take long for me to get lost in the moment, focused intently on the fast moving forms, talking myself through each set as I dialed in different settings and fired away. While I came away from the experience with pictures, it's the memory of what it felt like to be completely in that moment that I wish I could hold onto. I don't know how to replicate it here, now that I'm back in a cold climate filled with the often-conflicting pressures of everyday life.

But I'll certainly try. Because as I wildly followed the waves through my lens and felt the power of this place through every nerve ending I had, I realized this was the first time I had felt remotely like myself in months. I didn't want it to end.

Your turn: Finding peace. Repeating the feat later on. Please discuss.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Parking lot of broken dreams

Snowed under
London, ON, January 2010
About this photo: This week's "water in any form" theme takes us back to a place I know well: home. Specifically, my Canadian home. Which, as I write this, finds itself under a severe cold alert. Yay! If you're looking for ways to keep warm, head here to share your watery/icy vision.
I have a love/hate relationship with winter. On the one hand, it can be a miserable time of year. The days are short and the cold can be brutal, especially when squalls move in off the lake and pummel the region - as had just happened here. There's also nothing worse than pulling on layer after layer of clothing, only to get outside and realize you didn't tuck everything in quite as meticulously as you should have. Those cold spots are really annoying!

But when you get your woolies on just so and you're feeling all warm and comfy, sometimes you get outside and catch your breath at the stark beauty of the landscape and the freshness and clarity of the insanely cold air. That's how I felt as I snapped this picture. Indeed, the texture of the recently fallen, partly packed snow was so sharp that I found myself wishing the plow wouldn't come by later that night and clear the whole area down to the pavement.

Sometimes, aesthetics should take precedence over practicality.

Your turn: How do you keep your spirits positive during an otherwise dark period?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thematic Photographic 86 - Water in any form

The icicle works
London, ON, January 2010

As I was mulling over potential topic choices for this week's Thematic Photographic (please see here for TP-tagged entries, and here for instructions), I realized I'd been shooting a lot of ice, water or vapour of late. It wasn't a conscious decision, but part of me suspects that my subconscious likes to dictate the photographic agenda every once in a while. Since I'm not feeling Freudian enough to disagree with my subconscious being, I've decided to go with "water in any form" as this week's theme.

So...if it's liquified water, frozen ice, vaporized vapor, suspended fog or a partially humid combination of some or all of these, I hope you'll grab your camera, grab the shot and share it on your blog. Given how much of a role water plays in our lives - and in our very makeup - it makes sense to explore it for a bit.

You game?

Your turn: Please share a water-in-any-form photo on your blog, then paste a link to it in a comment here. Repeat as often as you wish. (And please accept my thanks for the response to last week's theme...I'm happily overwhelmed, and hope this week's theme provokes a similar response.) If you're new to TP, click here for instructions.

Apple iPad launches. World saved.

Big day in Apple-land, as the Cupertino-based tech company - and object of worship for fanboys everywhere - launched its iPad tablet-like device. I live-blogged Apple's iPad announcement over at Betanews (link here) with editor-in-chief Scott Fulton and managed to send out a few snarky tweets in the process, including:
  • Apple tablet device will make breakfast on Sunday, then clean up after itself.
  • Apple tablet device will create world peace, eliminate child hunger and rejuvenate the beauty pageant circuit.
  • Apple tablet device will rebuild Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti & get Al Qaida to renounce terrorism and open up theme parks.
  • Watching the Apple iPad announcement live. I believe it has cured AIDS, and we're waiting for Steve Jobs to confirm a cancer cure, too.
  • This just in: Apple's just-announced iPad device has replaced Barack Obama as President of the United States.
There's some media happening, too, including a live hit with Gary Doyle on Kitchener's 570News, a chat with CBC Radio's Meegan Read, an interview with my hometown radio station, AM980, and a chat with Sun Media's Steve Tilley. I'll post links when they go live.

Your turn: So, is all this hype just a little much? Just enough? What say you about the iPad? (Me? People are dying in Haiti, Afghanistan and everywhere else. I'm trying to put it all into some form of perspective.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get a handle on it

America runs on Dunkin
Deerfield Beach, FL, January 2010

Sometimes, it's the little touches that catch your eye.

Your turn: A little touch that comes to mind is...?

Monday, January 25, 2010

What came first?

The chicken or the egg?
London, ON, January 2010

I didn't immediately realize the irony going on in my grocery cart, but when I eventually took the time to look down and drink it in, my only option at that point was to take out my BlackBerry and grab a quick picture of it. The usual stares from strangers ensued. I'm sure my picture will end up posted beside the cash registers someday, which means I may need to start looking for a new grocery store a little earlier than planned.

Your turn: We're still sharing "I'm hungry"-themed photos. Click here if you've got one - or just want to see what everyone else is up to. And while you're at it, which one did come first? The chicken or the egg? More importantly, why?

Live on TV

I'm scheduled to be part of an hour-long live panel discussion on tonight's edition of The Agenda with Steve Paikin. If you live in Ontario and have access to TVO, I'll be exploring job creation in a recession as part of the panel. Here's the episode page, and they added a biography snippet on this page.

As ever, I'll wear my tech analyst/journalist hat, focusing on whether government and the private sector are doing enough to not only create jobs, but create the kind of jobs that will underpin our next-generation economy. Which, of course, begs the question: at what point do you abandon the obsolete and invest in the future? And how do you know you're managing this balancing act effectively?

The fun begins at 8 p.m. EST. I'll have more good news to share in the days ahead.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Donut or Doughnut?

Boston cream party
Bowling Green, OH, January 2010

I don't like overly sweet anything, but I've had a weakness for Boston cream donuts since I was a kid. My wife knows this, and as we carefully made our way home in the lengthening shadows of a late afternoon in Ohio, she surprised me with one, just because.

Since I had a couple of spare minutes to appreciate this lovingly chosen, custard-filled hunk of dough, I thought it made sense to explore it with my lens. Note to self: the dashboard makes a great makeshift photo workspace, especially when you've parked the wondervan Just So.

Your turn: What's your favorite not-so0-good-for-your-body-but-good-for-your-soul treat? And if you haven't contributed an "I'm hungry" themed photo, click here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Brangelina splitting up. World topples off its axis.

Michael Jackson dies. Tiger Woods is apparently being treated for sex addiction. Jay Leno is given yet another chance to define mediocre entertainment for a shrinking audience that doesn't seem to know better. Yes, folks, pop culture is a messy place these days.

And now...reports are emerging that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are separating. (Sniff). I believe it because I read it on the Interwebs.

I guess the supermarket tabloids will have to find a new supercouple to "cover" in their pathetic world of made-up journalism. Pity them.

As I gaze at my wife across the living room and drink in the simple pleasures of a quiet life in the burbs with the woman I love more than life itself, I find myself wondering why so many folks worship those who will clearly never get it. The world really does have its priorities reversed.

You'll excuse me if I now return my focus to the real important stuff. If only everyone did the same. Then maybe there wouldn't be more Brangelina-equivalents waiting in the wings.

Your turn: Why do people care so much about the personal lives of celebrities? Where's the appeal? (Because I'm failing to see it...feel free to enlighten me.)

Life's simple pleasures

Whipped cream makes everything better
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009

It was a good night for these two. They were hungry, so their big cousin made them sundaes, and then they got to eat them on the couch. Sometimes, life really is just that simple.

Your turn: If you've got a simple, memorable moment from your own childhood that you'd like to share, I hope you'll do so in a comment.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Syrupy Red Teletubby

Delray Beach, FL
December 2009

Po has a long history of getting in front of my lens. A couple of days before this particular shot was taken, I recorded her lounging by the pool (entry here). Then she went to the beach with us. Just this past weekend she traded hot for cold when I carted her to the neighborhood toboggan hill.

She's quite the traveler, and my never-ending quest to photograph her in bizarre places has less to do with photographic quality - she's a thumb-sized stuffie, after all, so how great will the pictures be? - and more to do with giving total strangers around me a reason to smile as they watch a grown, supposedly mature (ha!) man pose a tiny doll whose creators may or may not have been under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

On this night, we took her to the IHOP (aka International House of Pancakes, which by virtue of its near-exclusive presence in the U.S. renders it anything but international, but I digress) and I immediately zeroed in on the syrup rack. While this formica-laden restaurant interior in southern Florida had little in common with the never-been-renovated IHOP in Albany that always marked the halfway point of our drives to visit my aunt and uncle, the syrup racks and decanters may as well have been lifted from that old, beloved restaurant with the distinctive peaked roof.

So I decided Po should reconnect with our syrupy memories*. From the looks of it, she enjoyed the experience.

Your turn: Do you have your own favorite restaurant from way back? What made it special?

* I'd like to believe she was hungry, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Drive through

Open all night
Marysville, MI, December 2009
About this photo: This week's Thematic Photographic theme is, "I'm Hungry." If you've got a picture that fits the theme, please head here to share it with us.
I've been taking a lot of pictures with my BlackBerry lately. Qualitatively, it's probably the worst camera I've ever used. When the subject doesn't move and there's ample light, the results are passably impressive for a smartphone. But as soon as it gets even remotely dark, or the munchkin bats an eyelash, things deteriorate. Quickly.

Still, I've learned to work within its clear limitations. In many cases, I even celebrate its lousiness. Like here. I kinda dig the low-res, gritty feel of this shot. I took it as we headed south on the first day of our vacation drive. Barely an hour after leaving the driveway, we crossed the border when the munchkins needed a pit stop. So we found a sleepy little burg in Michigan and headed for the nearest McDs. While I waited in the car, I played.

This is the kind of pic that simply wouldn't have happened if I had to shlep an actual camera out of its bag. When you're driving long distance, pulling things apart to get the shot is the quickest route to spousal disapproval that I can think of (playing your favorite song seven times in a row, ignoring her directions and failing to place the fuzzy blanket on the front seat like she asked you are other surefire doghouse-drivers.)

So having a camera-equipped phone gives me a whole new opportunity to shoot within a whole new set of optical and technological rules. And as I look over this solitary moment in a deserted, snow-covered parking lot at 6:33 a.m. beside a brightly lit drive-through window, I like how this image makes me feel.

Which is supposed to be the whole point of photography, no?

Where I chat about obese, online, sleep-deprived kids

When I was a kid, my mother always said we watched too much television. Now that television's been joined by the Internet, mobile phones, videogame consoles and a host of other geeky tools, it looks like nothing's changed (if I close my eyes just so, I can even hear her saying she told me so. Really.) If anything, our juvenile screen addiction has gotten even worse since then.

I spoke with CTV News Channel's Marci Ien live this morning to explore what it means - for parents, for kids, and for their future. The link is here (also here) if you're into watching me on camera. Interestingly, I did the interview via Skype from home. I gave the dog a large chew before the interview began, then had to deposit him across the living room when his chewing at my feet became too loud.

Interestingly, I used Skype for an interview with CTV's Sandie Rinaldo - on the Google Nexus One phone - on January 6th. The story is here (also here) and the video of that hit - also beside the fireplace mantel, also with the dog safely calmed with a large-ish chew - is the third link down on the right.

(And, no, I can't take credit for the lovely artwork behind my shoulder. That's my wife's work - thank goodness one of us has the artistic gift!)

One more thing: My latest column, on Google's showdown with the Chinese government, has been published in Betanews. Here it is: Google's deal with the devil

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thematic Photographic 85 - I'm Hungry

Delray Beach, FL, December 2009
About this photo: This is the first entry in support of this week's Thematic Photographic theme, "I'm Hungry." I'm willing to bet you're just that. See below for instructions. Or follow your mouse here.
We've visited these waffles before. Well, not these exact waffles. The ones in the old blog entries (see here and here) lasted all of 42 seconds before my kids made them disappear. When my aunt made them again for us this year, the same thing happened. We blinked and they were gone. And the children were happy.

Everyone should have an aunt who not only creates something from nothing, but does it because it makes everyone around her feel connected. These are the most delicious waffles you'll ever eat, but the taste is only part of their story.

Your turn: If you can eat it, we're hoping you'll share a picture of it. Thematic Photographic works like this: Take a picture roughly related to the weekly theme - this week's is "I'm Hungry" - and post it to your blog. Come on over here and leave a comment and link (just paste it in if the linkie-geek features don't work) so folks can visit your site. Repeat. For more info on how TP works, click here. If you want to see how we did it last week, click here.

White hot

My future's so bright, I've gotta wear shades
Deerfield Beach, FL, January 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic's white-themed week wraps up with this bright-eyed view of the new year (original link is here.) Our next theme kicks off tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 EST. It will be...I'm Hungry.
This is one of the first pictures I took in the new year. Barely 15 minutes after the ball dropped, the kids went outside to light off some sparklers (I know, annals of parenting, but they were closely supervised, so...)

This one struck me as particularly memorable because it isn't so much about the sparkler, but the child's hand - namely, our son's - that holds it. Since 2009 was a year unlike any other for us, we anticipated 2010 with a little more hope than usual. This moment of our munchkin at play somehow managed to summarize that hope better than any other picture I took that night.

Your turn: Your hope for 2010. Please discuss.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Following his own path

Noah the Explorer
London, ON, February 2008
About this photo: Thematic Photographic slowly winds down its white-themed week. You're always welcome to share your own white vision by clicking here. If not, click anyway and feel free to visit this week's participants.
Since my wife teaches at our kids' school, I don't get to drop them off or pick them up as often as I'd like. So when I do, I like to walk them into the school yard, give them a goodbye hug and then watch them for a few minutes. It's a silly thing, really, but I can't help the feeling that they're growing up at light speed, and I only have so many moments like this before they're gone for good.

Sometimes - okay, always - I bring my camera along, and some mornings I see something that prompts me to crack open the bag and get shooting. That's no small thing when the temperature's well below zero and I've got all of 20 seconds to work before my fingers freeze. But that's an issue for another day.

On this day, I stood silently by as I watched our son cross the newly snow-covered field not in the footsteps of a classmate, but on his own path. The thought made me smile as I packed the camera away and headed for home.

Your turn: Why we follow our own path. Why this matters as much as it does.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Would you like fries with that?

Ain't that America?
Georgetown, KY, December 2009

I did a double-take after coming across this on the way into a McDonald's restaurant. Not the kind of message usually associated with the land of Happy Meals and shakes (not milk shakes, mind you. Just shakes.)

I guess my BlackBerry's camera didn't qualify as a concealed or deadly weapon. Maybe it should.

Your turn: What was your first thought when you initially saw this red, white (see here for TP) and black sign? (Mine: What if I'm waving it out in the open? The sign doesn't explicitly ban that, right?)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Punching a hole in the sky

Seek brightness
London, ON, April 2009
About this photo: It's white week all week long here at Written Inc. What am I talking about? Head here and all will be explained.
Weather in these parts is always entertaining. Living in between two Great Lakes means we get all sorts of lake effect storms. In winter, they show up on radar as fingers that reach down from the lake and keep dumping snow for as long as the system can hold together. It's so localized that despite the fact that Right Here looks like Santa's homeland, a 20 km drive east or west will get you to bare pavement. I find that fun.

Similar theatrics play out in summer, where our typically hot, humid weather can come to a violent end when a cold front sweeps in off the lake and powers storms that compel you to pull up a chair in the living room and watch. Or, as I did here, head out onto the back deck and take some pictures.

As I let my eyes wander around the sky, I noticed how charged the air felt. It was as if someone had sucked the energy out of the atmosphere, and those of us on the ground were expected to simply wait for the show to begin. Eventually it did, so I headed inside before I risked getting zapped. But not before I witnessed this ethereal moment, when the forces of darkness battled the forces of light, and the good guys won, however briefly.

Your turn: Stormwatching. Do tell!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dinner is (almost) served

Use the forks, Luke
London, ON, July 2009

Around my kids, a white napkin is never white for long. The pristine table is infinitely less photogenic once they're through with it. I don't share this as a complaint, mind you. It's just the way it is when you're a munchkin, and I'd have it no other way. If we're keeping track of the things that we treasure, listening to the chaos of mealtime is one of those little blessings that makes our family life memorable.

Who would have thought a simple place-setting could touch off this kind of thought? Neat.

I've been outed

One night last week, I was wandering through the local Loblaw grocery store with my wife (best date place ever, btw) when a green-shirted employee hauling a skid of what looked like paper towel stopped in front of us, looked right at me and said, "I've seen you on TV. You're the electronics guy, right?"

Well, color me flabbergasted. I've never been recognized in public, so this was a bit of a thrill. I confirmed that I think I'm the guy he's thinking about, and he told me I really know my stuff. A few seconds later, we returned to our previously scheduled programming: he to his job and me to my pursuit of the ultimate on-sale tortilla.

In the overall scheme of things, this doesn't even rate. But it was still neat to connect with a stranger through my work. Sometimes, the world works in fascinating ways.

Your turn: Connecting with strangers. Please discuss.

White lights in the sky

Station in motion
London, ON
March 2009

White dots in the sky are endlessly fascinating to me, especially when they're actually sophisticated space vehicles that carry a half-dozen fellow humans 220 miles overhead at 17,500 miles per hour.

Our kids have gotten used to my excited dinner table news flashes that a great viewing opportunity for the International Space Station is coming up*. Sometimes they roll their eyes and go back to their salads, but if the stars align just so, I may yet get a thumbs-up from one of them, and before long we'll be gathering camera equipment and heading outside to see what we can see.

As you can see here, everything worked out this time. I hope the memory sticks with them long after the tiny dot has faded from view.

Friday, January 15, 2010

White wedding

Tiers of the future
New York, NY
November 2009
[Click photo to enlarge]
About this photo: Thematic Photographic is all white this week. If you're in a white mood, too, head here.
I suspect we're naturally drawn toward white because it's pure, unencumbered, in and of itself free of the usual biases associated with other colors (hot reds, sombre greys and blacks, happy yellows, etc.)

But that's only a suspicion. I do know that sometimes I see things that immediately capture my attention. And from that moment on, the wheels in my head begin to churn as I try, sometimes annoyingly to those around me, to somehow translate the images in my head into images that I can share.

I don't always succeed. But sometimes, sometimes, it works out. This is my cousin's wedding cake, shot in the middle of a raging party (the same raging party where our youngest took a nap.) As I reviewed the pictures when we got back to the hotel late that night, I was struck by the serene sense of peace and calm, and the sublime light and texture that, to me anyway, reflected a sense of hope for a sweet, fulfilling future for my cousin and her new husband.

Your turn: Wishes for a new family. Please discuss.

One more thing: Most of my pictures from this trip to New York, including this one, were captured on my wife's Fuji. I know it annoys her when I secretly drop it into my camera bag, but the truth of the matter is I like the simplicity of it all. It forces me to get back to the basics of photography, where I can't rely on super-sophisticated features, point-precise metering and crystal-pure glass to easily dial in the shot I want. Where I actually have to rely on my creative self to coax the unexpected out of a camera not really designed for the task. Not so long ago, before I brought the Nikon home, I was pushing an old Kodak point-and-shoot to within an inch of its life. The Fuji continues this weird journey, and gives me ample opportunity to reconnect me with why I fell in love with photography in the first place. I hope my wife understands :)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vanilla or chocolate?

Not so plain
Boca Raton, FL
December 2009
About this photo: We're sharing white-themed scenes all week long. Click here if you've got one of your own.
Vanilla or chocolate? From where I sit, it isn't even close. Vanilla may be the overlooked plain sister of the ice cream world, but it's what I'll always choose if I've got a choice.

I've got nothing against chocolate, of course, but vanilla is the understated yin to chocolate's richer yang. It's a simpler, more subtle alternative that, like a basic cheese-and-sauce pizza, betrays whether or not its makers know what they're doing.

To further beat my pizza analogy to death, anyone can load up a pie with countless toppings and call it a masterpiece. But when you strip everything away to its simplest elements, the greats are separated from the not-so-greats. And so it is with vanilla ice cream. Its simplicity forces you to take the time to appreciate it. It doesn't bomb you with oodles of taste. Instead, you savor it. Slowly.

It's even more fun if it's soft, because few things let you have as much fun with a camera in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Or make your wife cringe, because this shot required me to yet again make a spectacle of myself as I composed, metered and shot quickly before it all melted on me.

Good thing she likes me.

Your turn: Are you a chocolate or a vanilla person? Why/why not?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thematic Photographic 84 - White

You're my destiny
New York, NY, November 2009
About this photo: Our new Thematic Photographic theme, white, is a simple one. I'm willing to bet y'all have tons of white pics hanging around the archives. Head here for more on how this insanity works.
There's a scene in the old, hasn't-aged-well film, Back to the Future, where the young George McFly (Crispin Glover) botches a line being fed to him by his much cooler, time-traveling son, Marty (Michael J. Fox). He tells his someday-wife that, "You are my density."

To this day, it's a line I jokingly use around my wife, another one of those phrases that somehow got stuck in my mind, and that somehow she inherently understands every time one of them escapes from my mouth. She gets me, and I'm thankful for that.

So as I stood dockside on a crisp New York morning and pondered the immense meaning of what I had just witnessed - the USS New York (LPD-21) on the morning of her commissioning - I found myself staring at this very lovely bow aside a nearby slip. The light was just right, and I thought my wife would find it amusing given how many times I've channeled BTTF.

She did. And I ended up with a picture that speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you, too.

Your turn: Two things, actually. First, please choose someone who means the world to you, and deliver the "You're my density" line to said person with as much humor as you can muster. Feel free to share the experience in a comment...we love happies here at Written Inc. Second, this is our Thematic Photographic launch entry, so I'm hoping you know what to do. If not, click here for guidance.

Po takes a vacation

Po faces the sun
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009

I'd like to say this image rounds out our celebration of all things related to vacation, but that would be a lie. Because I'll still be sprinkling vacation pictures around for weeks, perhaps months to come.

It makes me feel good to reflect on time well spent, to feel the warmth not only of a southern sun, but of much needed time with the important folks in my life. While we were away, I learned that warmth comes from all sorts of places, and it enriches the soul no matter its source.

New Thematic theme goes live at 7 p.m. (Last week's, what I did on vacation, is here.) But I wanted to squeeze this one in under the wire because it typifies some of the goofy silliness I've been trying to re-inject into the everyday of late. I don't always succeed, but I figure if I have a scene of a sun-worshipping Teletubby hanging around the blog, it'll be another potential source of inspiration.

Your turn: Why small things amuse us. Please discuss.

About this photo: Po goes everywhere with me, sort of like my own little travel gnome. For other examples of her in far-off places, click here, here and here.

Vignette: Turtle Diary

Safe again
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009

The scene:
I'm taking a drive with my uncle and we're on our way to Deerfield to pick up some coffee. I've harangued him into giving me the keys to his Prius, and before long we find ourselves cruising down the main road that bisects the town.

I'm getting a fast lesson in hypermiling techniques (verdict: everyone needs to give it a try. It's intoxicatingly fun, but I digress) when I spot a lump in the middle of the center lane. A rock, I think. I'm in fairly dense traffic, so there's no way I'm going to avoid it. I gingerly line up the car to put said lump right down the centerline and hold my breath as I roll over it. Nothing. A quick check in the rear view confirms I didn't hit it.

But as it shrinks behind us, I notice something sticking out. It's no rock. It's a turtle!

I ask my uncle if I can pull over and try to get the poor thing off the road. I'm a sucker for any living thing, and I'd be ticked with myself if I could have at least tried. He graciously allows me to pull an A-Team maneuver, and I deftly cut across two lanes, in front of one flabbergasted septuagenarian, before quickly finding a parking spot in front of an adjacent big box store.

I don't have much of a plan as I bolt from the car. A logical voice deep in my head tells me that running headlong into three-plus lanes of high-speed traffic isn't such a great idea. But the rose-colored-glasses optimist in me overrules the first voice, and I convince myself that everyone will instantly know what I'm up to, and will stop their cars to help.

I spot the turtle from afar and it looks intact. By some stroke of fate, there's a huge break in traffic, so I skip into the middle lane and run full-out, northbound in the southbound lanes. As I approach the turtle, the cars are getting bigger, so I stand with my arms out, exaggerating my moves like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show (best movie ever, no?) Sure enough, everyone slows down - probably to watch the moron with a turtle fetish get himself killed - and gives me ample room to scoop the shelled being up and run for the nearby canal.

Which is exactly what I do. I'm too fired up on adrenalin by this point to even realize how heavily I'm breathing. I look for the furthest possible point from the road and gingerly set the hefty reptilian munchkin down. He (she?) is buried deep in the shell, likely scared beyond belief. I try to say whatever soothing words I can before I head back to the car.

Turtles being what they are, I have no guarantee that this one didn't head right back for the road by lunchtime. But for a few minutes that morning, it felt like I was making some small difference. As we got back on our way, I decided that would have to be good enough for now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Revving for takeoff

To the beat of a unique drum
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic's latest theme is vacation pics. If you've got anything remotely vacation-y, click here to join in.
This wasn't the first time we'd been to the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. Years ago, we were here with both sets of grandparents, a day the kids have been speaking about ever since (see here, here, here and here.) Returning here without the extended fam made today more than a little bittersweet, as every turn reminded me of what had changed since then. But I suppose that's going to be a cornerstone of our lives from here on out, so I'd better get used to it.

Soon after getting there, I had already adopted my usual routine of falling behind because something else had caught my eye. We had two cameras this time, mine and my wife's (a sweet Fuji that often accidentally finds its way into my camera bag) so before long my wife was busy, too. This is my favorite picture from her set. I was standing beside her, mesmerized by the sight and sound of this flapping bird, as she captured the scene. It was one of those unique moments I'm glad we were able to witness together, and glad one of us had the foresight to grab the picture so we could remember it long after we had returned home.

Your turn: My wife's got some mad photog skills, no? What should she capture next?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Simon Cowell leaving American Idol. World stops spinning.

Yep, it's true. Simon Cowell has announced he'll be leaving American Idol at the end of this season (it's true because I read it here.) That would be the show's 9th season, for anyone who cares. And the announcement comes just as said season's premiere episode is set to air.

Coincidence much?

Maybe, just maybe this signals the beginning of the end of so-called reality TV. Maybe, just maybe, between this and the Jay Leno/NBC nonsense, broadcast television will finally learn that quality sells.


Do the wave

Delray Beach, FL, December 2009
About this photo: We're sharing vacation pics all week long. This is where the fun begins.
While we were away, I spent an inordinate amount of time walking through the surf. I wasn't looking for any great answers of the universe, but I did feel a particularly strong need this year to find an additional level of contentment. Part of me hoped to close the door on a particularly challenging year, while another part of me knew that things don't always transition as cleanly as we would like.

Still, standing in the pounding waves and feeling their power was good for my soul. I let my mind go for what seemed like hours at a stretch, content in the knowledge that nothing beyond this very moment mattered. It had been a long time since I was able to simply let go, and it felt remarkably cathartic.

I didn't get any great answers that day. But that wasn't the point, anyway. Life doesn't always need a point. Sometimes it's enough to simply be.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Time to make the donuts

On the outside looking in
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009
About this photo: I'm sharing vacation pictures this week, and hope you'll join me. Go here for more.
In retrospect, walking out of the Dunkin Donuts, pulling out my camera and shooting the retirees from afar may not have been such a great idea. This particular DD was the scene of a violent robbery in 2008 (story). Had my aunt and uncle not changed their plans that November night, they might have been right there when it happened. Small miracles, in the end.

Yet when I dropped in with my uncle, I couldn't help but be entranced by the sight of these folks, just hanging out in this fluorescent-bathed oasis of unhealthy consumption. It seemed like that perfect moment - complete with oversized dark glasses, enough makeup to open a pharmacy and a parachutists' hangar's worth of eye-searing polyester - that can only happen in Florida. I wanted to capture it somehow, but standing next to them with an SLR in my hand didn't seem advisable. So plan B involved the parking lot.

Needless to say, they still buzzed with excitement that someone had a camera. I thought about pretending I was a reporter for Donuts Illustrated, but eventually thought better of it. Perhaps they're still wondering who that guy in the red hoodie was.

Your turn: Donuts. What can't they do?

Fonzie stole my twenty

I learned many things while we were away, and I'll share some of 'em in an upcoming blog entry (because it's a momentous occasion when I learn something new, I suppose.) But for now, I'd like to share on admittedly fun piece learning, courtesy of my wife.

Namely, she noticed that Henry Winkler is on the American $20 bill. Twenty bucks...the Fonz...not a bad way to engage in free enterprise, eh?

Your turn: Celebrity lookalikes showing up in interesting places. Please discuss.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Connecting at Ben's

Say hello to David
Boca Raton, FL, December 2009
About this photo: We're sharing vacation pics all week long. Click here to join in.
The usual reaction when I pull out my camera in a restaurant, grocery store or retail outlet is exasperation. Store owners and staff alike rarely appreciate someone playing paparazzi in the middle of the place. They think you'll sell the pictures to a competitor, tick off the other customers or cause the ice cream to melt with your incessant flashing.

So as I set up to take pictures of the hanging salamis (no jokes, please) at Ben's Deli, I fully expected to be shooed away when the door to the kitchen swung open and this gentleman's eyes met mine. I pre-emptively explained how cool the hanging salamis looked, and how the Montrealer in me felt compelled to record it in some way. He seemed to dig it, and we bantered for a bit about what I do with my pictures, why I choose such offbeat subjects and what a wonderland this deli would be if I had a couple of hours to run free here.

Then he offered to pose for a shot. In all my years of taking pictures in places where I really shouldn't, this has never happened. So I happily composed and snapped away. Rest assured that every time I'm in Boca Raton, I'll find an excuse to visit this place. Not only is the food incredible, but the people - like David here, and Paul the waiter-cum-photographer who told me where to find the best bird sanctuaries in the region - are memorably genuine.

Your turn: Connecting with folks through your lens. Please discuss.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Faded house, reflected beauty.

Delray Beach, FL, December 2009

I've been to this house before (please see here for earlier entry.) In the year since my last visit, time has done it no favors: The weeds continued to choke it off, while even more pieces of its facade had either cracked, warped or simply fallen off. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to still see it standing when we first passed by, as I had fully expected this structure to be gone by now.

A few days after we got here, I went for a walk through the neighborhood in search of a decent view of the setting sun. I hadn't even intended to shoot the house again, but as I walked past in the fading light of the early evening, I caught a brilliant reflection off the west-side windows that stopped me in my tracks. Faded and forgotten, it was still capable of reflecting the beauty around it.

That evening, I learned you don't always get what you came for. I learned that despite this truth, what you ultimately find often turns out to be even more memorable. I also learned that even forgotten houses like this can have enough pluck to hang around long enough to make an impression on someone. We just have to be willing to take the time to notice.

Your turn: Finding opportunity in the forgotten. Please discuss.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Fiery re-entry

Trails in the sky
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009

About this photo: We're sharing photos from vacations - recent, childhood, far away and close to home, whatever - all week long. To jump into the latest Thematic Photographic, just click here.
I've often written about my habit of staring at the sky (see here, here and here for earlier examples.) I come by it honestly thanks to a childhood spent largely lying face-up on my front or back lawn, peering endlessly into the ever changing sky. Adulthood hasn't cured me.

Being a kid in the era of film, however, my parents understandably weren't about to entrust me with their camera. So these hours went largely unrecorded, existing only as dusty memories from way back.

Thankfully adulthood has given me more options to remember. On this late afternoon in Florida (please see here to share your own vacation-time vision), the kids had just finished up another arduous day of swimming in the pool. As they wrapped themselves in their cushy towels and tried to stay out of the ever-lengthening shadows, I noticed these streaky clouds overhead. I immediately thought of meteor showers, Hollywood-esque comet trails and, sadly, STS-107, and thought this was a moment I wasn't willing to remember strictly in my head.

Your turn: What does this remind you of?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Thematic Photographic 83 - What I did on vacation

Surface tension
Delray Beach, Florida, December 2009

I've selected this week's Thematic Photographic theme, What I did on vacation, as a prompt for all of us to get back into that idyllic groove that marks time away from the everyday. This week likely represents an unwelcome return to reality for most of us, and if my experience is any guide, it isn't an easy transition.

Since we can't drop everything and head back to the pool, beach or cottage, I thought a bit of photographic therapy might be in order. Are you game?

Your turn: Please share a vacation-themed photo on your blog (new, old, whatever floats your boat), then drop a link into a comment here. Feel free to visit other participants - it helps spread the joy - and repeat as often as you wish over the next week. Click here for more info on how Thematic Photographic works.

A sign in the alley

We hope you can read
Toronto, ON, January 2009
About this photo: All week long, we've been taking a look back at our favorite pics of the past year as part of Thematic Photographic's 2009 - The Year That Was theme. If you've got one you'd like to share, please go here. Later tonight - at 7:00 p.m. EST, in fact - we'll launch the next TP theme, What I did on vacation.
This is not a picture for the annals. Taken with my wife's old, battered camera on a bitterly cold January morning as I walked from one meeting to the next, I doubt it's the kind of photo that deserves a viewing beyond me, the dog and maybe the next Jehovah's Witness who shows up at my door.

Still, it's hung around the fringes of my archives for the past year, and every time it pops up onscreen, I find myself staring at it intently. I think that's because it's the kind of scene we tend to ignore in our pursuit of the big and the grand, the kind of picture that never shows up in a tourism bureau brochure, a frame over the fireplace mantel or even a YouTube video.

But I guess that's the point of both this picture, this blog entry and, if we're keeping score, of the entire year: It isn't about what plays big. It's about what plays small, what no one else is seeking, what jazzes you, what keeps hanging around the fringes of your own world. Because when you get to the end and look back, it's the small things that seem to stand out more than anything else. I am reluctantly learning to appreciate this sad truth more intensely with each passing day.

For the coming year, I hope you'll consider doing what I've challenged myself to do: Look for more overlooked places like this and consider focusing on them a little more closely. They may be hidden where we least expect it, and we may not always have the tools on-hand to fully appreciate why they're special. But at least we'll smile and reflect every time we look back.

Your turn: Look closely at the picture. Now imagine yourself walking to the right. What's there?

At rest

A place to reflect
Montreal, QC, July 2009

I spent entirely too much time in cemeteries this past year. And when I wasn't actually standing in these places of reverent memory, my mind inevitably drifted there.

I'd like to say 2010 will be different, but I know that would be a lie. The cemetery is now a permanent part of who I am, and wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, it'll be there in the back of my mind, reminding me of where I came from, what's been lost and why I must always, somehow, hold on to those who helped shape me.

About this photo: Last summer I took my dad to two cemeteries in Montreal to visit the graves of his parents, my mom's parents and any other important family members we could find. I wrote about it here. I took this picture just before we left the De La Savane cemetery, and remember clearly how he watched me quietly as I lay on the ground and composed this shot. It's one of those seemingly inconsequential things I'm glad we did, because ultimately the only thing you can tangibly keep are the memories of little moments like this. I guess they're not so little after all.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Putting my foot down

Infinitely finite
Delray Beach, FL, December 2009

We're home. After a couple of weeks away from the craziness that is the life of the Levy clan, we're back on terra firma. While we were away, I was busy with my camera, so I'll be sharing some glimpses of our adventure in the days and weeks to come.

A few months back, just after we had returned from my father's funeral, I remember a conversation with my wife where I told her I felt broken. I know you don't fix loss, and healing from something like this always involves a few well-placed scars. But being here, speaking about him with my aunt - my dad's younger sister and only sibling - was nevertheless the kind of catharsis our souls needed after the brutal period we'd been through this past year.

So we came to this place to relax, disconnect and reflect on where we go now. It was a vacation we knew we needed, not one filled with itineraries and activities, but one filled with quiet time and poolside chats. [Note to self: In the year to come, have more discussions with the folks who matter most.]

With that in mind, my wife and I set out for the beach, alone, on the last day of the year. I wandered around with my camera and spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, listening to the pounding waves. At one point, I walked into the warm surf and stood there while the tide rolled in around me. As the ocean drew little temporary works of art around my tired feet and toes, I stared down at the endless spectacle, reluctant to move for fear of disturbing the peaceful moment.

I didn't get any answers to the myriad questions that have been dogging me for much of the year, but for a tiny slice of time, standing on the edge of a very large and mysterious ocean, I felt like I was on the verge of a bigger change, too, and that things would be different when I walked back up the beach to rejoin my wife.

Funny how a little reflective time alone can help you see things more clearly.

Your turn: Have you reflected lately? Do tell...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Who's got webbed feet?

Before takeoff
Trenton, ON, November 2010

We're still exploring our favorite photos from the past year. Follow your mouse here to share your own faves.

Why did this one make the happy list? Because it was a delightfully quirky moment that presented itself at a completely unexpected time, in a completely unexpected place.

I was on my way home to London, driving the 401 alone after spending a few days in my hometown for a less-than-happy reason. I had been in the car, musing over the meaning of life, when I realized I needed a break. After chilling out for longer than I should have, I found myself shooting random pictures in the parking lot.

The service stop was brand spanking new, and we'd been waiting for these places along the 401 to open up for so long that I felt the need to linger with my lens for a bit. At one point, I looked down and saw this seagull walking unusually close to me. This is the result.

Your turn: The beauty of ordinary. Please discuss.

After the rain falls

Toronto, ON, June 2009

I ended the year much like I started it, namely spending entirely too much time staring too closely at trivial, forgettable things. So as I continue to share photos of the year that was - you can, too...just point your mouse this way - I thought it would be entirely appropriate to grab one of my favorites from midyear.

I'll never get tired of the limitless ways water can make a permanent impression on us. For 2010, I guess I have to get better at remembering to capture it before it evaporates into vapor and starts the cycle all over again. Timing, after all, is everything in this life thing.

Your turn: What other things that disappear quickly did you remember in 2009?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The family photographer

Anyone who knows me even remotely knows that I cart my camera with me pretty much everywhere I go. From after-school pickup to interviews at the television station to shopping for mittens and scarves, I almost never leave the house without my beat-up old camera bag slung over my shoulder. I guess I like the security of having it with me. Our kids have blankets and bunnies, while I've got my beloved Nikon.

The same thinking applies to family get-togethers. I bring the camera along because I want to remember the folks I met there. We often go years between such meetings, so a documented record of the event helps me hold on to these folks who, despite the distance, remain important to me. I also bring it because I find crowded rooms overwhelming, and having my camera in my hand gives me something to focus on and to break the ice.

Most folks get it, and they amiably dive into my ongoing game of socio-photographic family togetherness. Some folks, however, do not. And I ran into one of them last week.

About halfway through a delightful brunch with family from far and wide, one relative approached me and rather coldly asked me why I hadn't yet taken any pictures of her side of the family. She proceeded to berate me for focusing exclusively on my wife and kids, and for ignoring her and her brood. She told me I needed to get a move on because they were planning on leaving soon.

So while my flabbergasted brain processed this fit of staggering rudeness, I maintained an impassive face as I thought of the following points of fact:
  • No one hired me to be the event photographer. This wasn't a gig, and I wasn't aware that she had appointed me as the de facto professional photographer for her family.
  • I had already covered the entire room, and by the time she opened her mouth I was certain I had at least one photo of everyone in attendance - including her brood.
  • She hadn't offered to take any pictures of my kids. Come to think of it, she hadn't brought a camera. And while we're at it, I don't remember her taking any pictures at any previous family events.
So, friendly-Canadian-pacifist that I am, I smiled politely and told her I was well on my way toward taking everyone's picture, and I'd be happy to share all my pictures with her when I was done. I decided against responding with sarcasm, because it probably would have been lost on her anyway.

Your turn: How do you respond to such rudeness? I guess some folks would simply leave their cameras home in future, but I'd hate to lose out because one bad apple among countless amazing ones decides to ruin the moment.

One more thing: The day was wonderful. I reconnected with people who loomed large in my life even though I may have last met them when I was a kid. I learned who they were, what drove them and how they had left their mark on the world. I found myself in the middle of crowds of people, bantering with them as if we had never been apart. It was difficult to leave, and I found myself wishing geography didn't have to be such a barrier to family togetherness.

I decided not to let the photo-deprived outlier cast any more shadows on the day. Life's too short, after all.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Light of the world

Shine on
Richmond Hill, ON
November 2009
About this photo: This week's Thematic Photographic theme is 2009, the year that was. As part of this theme, we're asking folks to share their favorite photos from this past year. If it tickled your fancy, we want to see it. Click here to dive in.
A day before my father would have celebrated his 75th birthday, we gathered at my sister's place to spend some time with my mom and begin to learn what our lives without him would feel like.

It wasn't fun. While I was glad to have the opportunity to spend time with my mom and my sister and her family, it was difficult to escape the shadows cast not only on the day, but on our lives. It seemed so odd to not have him there, to relate to our mother as an individual and not as part of our parental team. But we knew we had no choice in the circumstances that led us here. What mattered was how we chose to go forward from here. I'm not sure it'll ever feel right, but we'll keep trying.

As the late afternoon sun cast ever longer shadows outside, we took the kids for a walk to the neighborhood park. After letting them run themselves ragged in the playground, we took a long stroll around the walking path that winds its way through the quiet fields. At one point, I fell behind the group because I kept seeing a flash of some kind from the large floodlights overhead. I walked back and forth in the grass trying to get the reflections in the glass just so, and eventually found a tiny sweet spot that resulted in this three-colored shot.

It's the kind of picture my father would have chided me for taking. Because he had his way of looking at photography, I had mine, and rarely did the two converge. As I stood in the middle of a field and stared up into the spectacle in the sky, I smiled at the thought before returning to reality.

Your turn: I wanted to start the new year with something related to light. History is full of examples of light banishing the darkness and showing us the way, and it's always helped give me focus when things look darkest. What does light mean to you?