Monday, February 28, 2011

Is it bulletproof?

Canada's national sport
London, ON, December 2010
[Click here for more letter-themed goodness. It won't hurt. Promise.]

If you're a sports fan, today's a big day, as the National Hockey League draft deadline is today. So I thought I'd mark the occasion with this snippet from London's John Labatt Centre. Because I'm Canadian. And I'm pretty sure hockey fandom is baked into my DNA.

As we took our seats in this showpiece of a facility, the NHL logo stood out in my mind because the closest NHL teams play two hours away. It's nice to know our minor-league London Knights merit NHL-approved glass, even if they "only" play in the Ontario Hockey League.

Memo to folks in Toronto who pay a week's salary to watch their team extend their 40-plus-year losing streak by another game: You'd have a lot more fun here. There's just something about teenagers and early-twentysomethings building a future in the sport that they love that resonates more deeply than millionaire free agents. I'm thankful to live in a place where the love of the game still means something.

Your turn: Do you love a sport? Any sport? Why? Why not?

One more thing: I know that Canada's official national sport is actually lacrosse. But that's on paper. Deep in our souls, it's hockey.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Forget the Oscars...the Impala's the thing

Red hoodie
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
Click all photos to enlarge
About this photo: We're sharing letters this week as part of our latest Thematic theme. You can get involved, too, by following your mouse this way.
The scene: My wife had taken the kids into the pharmacy to get the stuff kids always need when they're on vacation. For reasons that still make no sense to me, I lagged beyond for a few minutes so I could take pictures in the darkened parking lot. In retrospect, it may not have been the smartest move, but at the time it seemed like a good call.

And why was I shooting alone in a nearly deserted South Florida parking lot that was barely lit by the fluorescent light spilling out of the adjacent pharmacy? Because I somehow got it into my head that I could make our rental car - a bright red Chevrolet Impala that anyone's fedora-wearing grandpa would have been proud to own and drive - look sexy. I've done this before - indeed, the first Thematic ever featured a Toyota Yaris - and I wanted to give it a shot here, too. I'm ridiculous that way.

I grabbed a few reflective snaps before I packed the camera away and rejoined my brood inside the Walgreens. Where I promptly cracked the camera back out and resumed shooting. But that's a story for another day.

Your turn: How do you make the ordinary - in photography as well as in life - seem extraordinary?

Saturday, February 26, 2011


John Hancock was here
London, ON, June 2010
[Click here to share your own letters for this week's Thematic]

We normally don't allow complete strangers to sign our children's forearms. But we were willing to make an exception when members of the London Majors - our city's minor-league baseball team - held a workout with their school.

The team plays who in Labatt Park, the oldest continuously operating baseball stadium on the surface of the earth (sorry, it sounded more dramatic that way) and it was quite a kick for our kids to spend some time with them, just playing ball. Because enjoying the experience is what sports should be about.

Your turn: Do you have an autograph story to share?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Forgotten web

Temporary address
London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: Thematic is sharing letter-themed scenes all week long, and we'd love for you to share your own, too. Just go here to get the lettered party started.
You can't talk - or argue - about the fate of London's downtown core without including at least some mention of Dundas Street. This east-west artery is the backbone of the central retail district, and it runs from there clear through - and beyond - the east end of town.

Time has not been kind to this road, and a walk down its worn-down sidewalks can be more than a little depressing if you let it. But I've never much felt comfortable allowing a street to dictate my mood. And I'm a big fan of perspective.

I think that's because I grew up in a much bigger city, with a much bigger downtown, whose problems to this day seem to dwarf those of my adopted hometown. Indeed, when I went to school in Montreal, some of the crumbling streets there made London's Dundas Street on its worst day seem positively quaint in comparison.

Which is my way of saying even after a late-night stroll down a particularly sad stretch of Dundas, I remain convinced that this burg has nowhere to go but up. That it's only a matter of time before the planets align and folks with money and dreams return to this neighborhood and turn it back into the magnet it once was. I guess that makes me a dreamer. So be it.

For now, however, this now-abandoned URL stands as evidence of a future that once was.

Your turn: What does it take to return a neglected area back to what it once was?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thematic Photographic 135 - Letters

A night at the movies
London, ON, February 2010
[Click here for more background on Thematic]

You read the title correctly, folks: Thematic is back! I took a bit of time off from our weekly photographic sharing activity (see here if this is all Swahili to you) because I think I needed a slight change of pace. But after being away from it for a couple of weeks, I realize I've missed it. I guess this crazy little photo-thing of ours has grown on me.

I'm going to make things easy for this week's theme: Anything with letters! That's it. If it's got something resembling an alphabet, in any language, in any form, in any order, then I hope you'll share it over the next week.

Your turn: Post a letter-themed pic on your site - or find something you've already posted online. Then leave a comment here telling folks where to find it. Repeat. Visit others. Drag your friends into the fray. Enjoy the highly cooperative, absolutely non-competitive process. Because it's all about finding new ways to view the world through a lens.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Shaky landing
London, ON, November 2010
About this photo: I've enjoyed my freeform photographic week, but it's time to get back to Thematic. New theme launches tomorrow (Thursday) night at 7:00 p.m. Suggestions welcome.
The scene: It's a bitterly cold night (10:18 p.m., if we're being precise) and I'm driving back from a day in Toronto. As I often do when I make the 200 km trip home, I get off the highway in Woodstock and drive the last 60 or so km on a regional road. I enjoy the slower pace, the occasional cruises through real small towns along the way, the feeling that I'm not just passing through at some ungodly speed. These little detours of mine remind me to slow down when I'm outside the car, too.

On the eastern fringe of London, the road passes pretty close to the end of one of the runways at London International Airport. And as luck would have it on this night, I saw lights in the distance as I approached the now-familiar spot. So I pulled over, grabbed my pocketcam and stepped into the finger-numbing darkness.

It quickly became apparent to me that I had brought a butter knife to a gunfight. The little camera, as much as I love it for its lovely and flexible lens and light weight, just wasn't built for all-manual, night-time shooting. From metering to composition to focusing, it just doesn't have the do-it-all ease of an SLR.

So the pictures didn't just suck. They Sucked. Big time. Blurry, badly exposed, horridly composed (visualization through an electronic viewfinder when your eyes are tearing from the cold and the tears are freezing on your eyelashes: bad idea.) I was tempted to dump them all off of the memory card.

Instead, I left them there to gather virtual dust for a few months. When I looked at them again earlier this week, I realized the perfection I originally envisioned when I saw the lights in the sky wasn't all it was cut out to be. Sometimes, the less-than-perfect result is the one that sticks with you long after the initial disappointment fades.

Besides, perfection's overrated.

Your turn: Is it? Why? Why not?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The train has left the station

A visit ends. A journey begins.
London, ON, September 2010

There's a mournful moment when you drop someone off at the train station, then hang around trackside as the cars pull away and slowly clickety clack into the distance. There's no one left behind but you because, let's face it, nobody except you hangs around train stations to wave goodbye to friends and family who, by this point, can't even see you standing there.

But still, you stand there. Because before you turn around and walk back into the rest of the world, you realize it's good for the soul to pause in this now-quiet place. Because you don't always have to be in a rush to get somewhere when you find yourself in between chapters of your day, or your life. And even if you are, whatever it is that's waiting for you can wait just a little longer.

Because it can take a while for the train to completely disappear and for the clickety clack to fade from your ears. And how often do you get back here to enjoy the moment?

Your turn: Do you ever stop and think?

Monday, February 21, 2011

This old man...

You can't rush art
Laval, QC
August 2009

This painting graced the living room of my parents' old house when I was growing up. Like so many other choices they made in interior decoration, I often wondered about this one. Mind you, I'm not one to judge, as I'm sure my own home isn't going to be featured on the cover of any magazine anytime soon, and I'm sure our kids have already come to their own conclusions about my decidedly limited sense of design.

Still, this particular work always haunted me, especially if I happened to glance up just before bedtime. I'm not sure what it was about him that gave me pause, but he always seemed to be watching me as I trundled around the big room.

The old man survived the move to my parents' condo and now casts glances on an entirely new generation of Levys. Whoever the artist is, I wish he/she knew how deeply ingrained this one work has become in the fabric of my life, and that of my family.

Funny how that works, isn't it?

This just in: My mom confirms that this painting was/is by an artist named David Pelbam (1932-2004). He was originally from Rhode Island, and specialized in paintings of sea captains, dockworkers and rabbis. According to his very sparse biography on, he did most of his work between 1950 and 1960.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stonehenge on a tree

Ancient bark
Laval, QC, August 2009
[Click photo to enlarge]

I like to repeatedly walk the same paths I've walked since I was a child, returning to places that have become so familiar that I could probably traverse them with my eyes closed.

For obvious reasons, I keep my eyes wide open. Aside from avoiding unplanned dunks in less-than-clean rivers and streams, it helps me see things that I probably missed beforehand. I guess I never learned to cross a place off my list simply because I had already "been there".

After all, you don't exhaust the potential of something - place, book, song, person, whatever - simply because you've only experienced it once. If that were the case, we'd never get past the first date.

And so it was on this walk along a path I'd been on countless times since I was a kid, I saw some bark that reminded me of this. Not sure how I missed seeing it before. No matter, as I'm sure I'll find something else on my next visit, too.

Your turn: Finding something new in the tried and true. Please discuss.

Let your kids play with fire

Mr. Sparkle
Deerfield Beach, FL, January 2011
[Click photo to embiggen]
There's a conventional wisdom that compels parents to keep their children from contacting, thinking about, initiating or even being in the same room as anything remotely combustible. If my parents taught me one thing, it was to not play with fire.

So I had to ask myself if putting sparklers into my kids' hands just after the year ticked over from 2010 to 2011 was my smartest move as a parent. Sure, sparklers are supposedly considered the safest form of fireworks (at least according to the guy on the street corner who sold them to us.) But as I coached them to wave the burning sticks around in front of them while I stood there with my lens open, a couple of things dawned on me:
  1. These things burn hotter than the surface of the sun. Or at least they seem to.
  2. My children had absolutely no training in the use of hotter-than-the-sun combustibles.
  3. Neither did I.
  4. Neither did any of the other adults gathered around for this impromptu celebration of orbital mechanics.
Did that compel me to slam on the brakes? To grab these things out of their hands and stomp them out before they turned our kids into charcoal briquettes?

Nah. At some point, the parent-nanny-state needs to stop. So I quietly let them go about the business of being kids, minor risks and all. Because eventually they'll need to learn how to navigate the planet. And if they run into some sparklers - or worse - along the way, it'll be handy to know what it feels like to get a few stray sparks on their skin.

Your turn: The difference between being protective and being smothering. Please discuss.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Grammatically challenged

I'm not sure why stuff like this bothers me as much as it does. After all, I'm not sure how relevant a phenomenal command of the English language is when a runaway sewage pipe is in the midst of turning your beautifully finished basement into the second coming of the East River. If my plumber manages to stop the carnage, I'm perfectly willing to ignore his/her literacy skills.

Plumbers plumb, grammar wizards do their grammar-wizardry thing, and the two core comptetencies don't necessarily need to overlap. Still, things like this raise my blood pressure. You?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Angry bird

Low level flight
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
[Click photo to embiggen]

I haven't posted the new Thematic theme because life's been getting in the way. Nothing onerous, mind you. Just a trip to a semi-faraway place and the inevitable upset to life's routine that results. I had pre-posted a bunch of stuff before I left, but in retrospect I probably should have had a few more days worth of content in the pipeline. I guess I'll get to Thematic by the weekend. New theme suggestions welcome.

I've chosen to share a bird photo because flying on planes always makes me wish I had the ability to take to the sky without Air Canada's help. After my flight home last night, where our friendly Dash-8 captain had to reject takeoff after misconfiguring a switch in the cockpit (I tweeted it here, here and was quite the adventure), that wish to be more bird-like became that much stronger in me.

I've chosen this particular bird because he has such a focused look on his face. And in this era of Angry Birds - seriously, everyone was playing it on their phones at the airport - I thought it might be nice to see a real angry bird instead.

Your turn: Should we give him (her?) a name? Are you getting tired of my bird pics yet?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A lost soul

Man of the streets
London, ON, October 2009
[Click here for more stranger-themed imagery]

I struck a bit of a nerve with my street-level observation, Mumbling strangers in our midst, the other day. I didn't have a picture then, as it was icy outside and holding a camera in my hand just didn't seem like the smartest thing. But that moment got me thinking, and I thought back to this picture, shot a year ago October, when I was walking the comparatively dry streets of downtown London with a camera in hand, deliberately looking for scenes to capture.

I remembered this man because I'd seen him many times before. He's a fixture in and around the core, seemingly spending his days covering the same streets, over and over. He never seems to go anywhere specific - at least not that I can see - but I'm guessing that isn't the point for him. Rather, the goal seems to be to fill the time, to make the days go by, to get to another nightfall still standing.

When I took this picture, he seemed undecided about where to go next. This man who likely knew the streets better than anyone had just spent at least five minutes standing at the intersection, walking a few steps in various directions before stopping and reconsidering. He said nothing and approached no one as he worked the plan out in his head.

As I stood quietly far away and watched the moment, I for some reason found myself wanting to know what he was thinking. I don't think the picture gave me any more insight, but I'm glad I took it all the same.

Your turn: So what was he thinking?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You looking at me?

Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008
[Please click here to share your own pictures of strangers]

I'll likely never know if the woman in this shot knew I was taking her picture. I think she made eye contact with me, but beyond the furtive glance pictured here, she didn't respond more overtly. No screaming. No jumping out of her chair. No chasing me down the beach or trying to rip the memory card from my camera.

Still, I thought it was sweet that these two were having such a relaxing day at the beach, and I didn't want to forget what it felt like to stumble across a moment like this. You see all sorts of people at the beach, and some of them, even if they're total strangers, deserve more than just a passing glance.

Your turn: What makes a stranger worth remembering?

One more thing: I'm back in the air again today...heading to Minneapolis for a couple of days. Never been there. Don't know what to expect. Likely won't have a whole lot of time to explore, anyway, but I'll probably find a quick moment or two to snag some images on a memory card. As ever, I'll use the Internet to connect with home. I can't imagine being far from home and not being able to reach out with such ease.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day sucks. If you let it.

Pardon the link bait-ish headline. I have a rocky relationship with modern holidays designed to sell stuff, and this one's no different.

Be that as it may, it's never a bad thing when folks take the time to let each other know how they feel. We all need to feel loved and connected. It is, after all, a key ingredient of feeling whole.

As I tap away with my thumbs while getting ready for work, I can hear the house filling with V-day references. Even the dog is getting extra love. It's a smiley day, and heaven knows we all need as many of these as we can possibly get.

The sad thing about holidays like today is they are but one day. They're over so quickly that it's easy to lose the script until another year passes. We build up to this unsustainable moment. Then it's done. And so many of us forget the in-between, the other 364 days of the year when a kind word or paused moment would also make such a difference to those around us.

So, here's what I'm going to do. Today, I'll share the joy with the most important people in my life. Tomorrow morning, I'll do it again. And the next day. And the next and beyond. I won't wait until next February 14th to let them know how much they mean to me. I hope you won't wait, either.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Watching Snowbirds fly

Taxiing past
St. Thomas, ON, June 2009
[Click here to share your own view of the strangers among us.]

My favorite moment at any airshow is when a featured aircraft slowly taxis past the crowd. People's heads turn slowly toward the lumbering sound, as they hold their collective breath in a silent realization that something extraordinary is about to happen. The moment seems to take forever, as taxiing from an apron slot to the end of the runway can be a miles-long process. In today's instant-gratification world, where no one seems impressed by anything anymore, it's nice to see that some things can still captivate.

In the case of Canada's national aerobatic team, the Snowbirds (wiki, home page), multiply the anticipation by 9, as that's how many planes the team flies during the typical show. The Snowbirds were last here, just south of London, in 2009, and the kids are already talking about their next scheduled visit later this year.

On this afternoon, we found ourselves behind a fairly dense crowd of onlookers, and since we're polite Canadians, decided to hang back a bit and see what things looked like from the back. As it turns out, a little additional context sometimes adds a little something, I don't know, human, to the story.

Your turn: Ever get stuck at the back when you're shooting something? How do you work around it?

One more thing: More airshow/Snowbirds stuff here, here and here.

Oops, two: The Wings & Wheels Air Show that we attended in 2007 and 2009 has been renamed the Great Lakes International Air Show. If you're anywhere near southwestern Ontario June 24-26, drop us a line if you can make it down.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Smile for grandma, dammit!

Peering over her shoulder
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008
About this photo: All week long, Thematic sticks its lens where it doesn't belong as we share perspectives on complete strangers. Click here to share your own.
I have no idea who this woman is, and I'm pretty sure I shot this picture-within-a-picture picture so quickly that she never knew I was even there. Which suits me fine, because I'm pretty sure she would have been creeped out if she knew someone had trained a lens on her camera's screen while she was trying to follow her grandchildren around the surf.

Be that as it may, there's an interesting vibe associated with being in an overtly public space because there's no way to fully isolate the private from the public. We don't haul around cubicle-like partitions with us, so it's entirely likely that we'll end up capturing others in the process - and likewise others will end up capturing us. Want to stay completely off the grid? Stay home.

On the plus side, it was a joy to see grandma, indeed any grandma, out and about with her kinderlings. This is, after all, what life is supposed to be about. Stranger or not, it was nice to see.

Your turn: So what's grandma thinking right about now?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mumbling strangers in our midst

I've spent enough time living and working in relatively large cities to have developed a sixth sense for trouble. I can feel it more than I can see it, often from blocks away, which gives me more than enough time to find another way to get where I need to go. I'm heartless that way, and it disturbs me to no end.

And so it was today, as I walked back to my car at the end of the workday. I spotted him when he was barely a speck. It didn't take long to realize he wasn't all there, as he shuffled oddly from one leg to another, and carried an empty 1.5-litre plastic pop bottle in his right hand. His salt-and-pepper hair was curly, wild and long, backdropped by an equally salt-and-pepper overgrowth of beard. He spoke to himself, then in my direction as he realized our paths were about to cross.

I couldn't make out anything he was saying. I got the sense that merely hearing his own voice was enough to keep him moving down the street.

As he walked toward me, he looked straight at me and for a blink, seemed like he was going to approach me directly. I adjusted my path to stay on the other side of the street. Part of me was thankful the brutal cold of the past few days and nights had eased, so at least he could mumble and wander in relative comfort. The other part of me felt guilty that I had avoided him at all. I had followed my own instincts to avoid potential trouble with a troubled stranger, and in doing so I wondered if my avoidance, slight as it was, had even registered in his mind. I figured he was used to it, but it still gnawed at me as I got into my car, locked the door and headed for home.

Before long, I found myself walking into a house whose front door was crowded with a barking, wiggly dog, huggy kids and a really beautiful wife. I realize the unfairness of a world where some live in warm homes with happy families while others wander the streets, confused and alone. I get that mental illness claims more of us than we dare admit.

I don't have any magical answers to the random cruelties of our planet. I just wish I had a response more elegant than pure avoidance.

Your turn: Thoughts?

[For more thoughts and perspectives on strangers, please click over to this week's Thematic.]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thematic Photographic 134 - Strangers

Teatime in...Boca?
Boca Raton, FL, December 2010

It's time to break a long-held photographic rule, the one that says you may not shoot strangers without their permission. Because to do so opens up a whole new layer of interpersonal complexity, with release forms and potentially irate mothers-in-law defining the two edges of the spectrum.

Since I began shooting, I've stayed away from pointing my lens at people I don't know. I couldn't be bothered with the hassle of obtaining permission, of explaining why, of being accused, in this litigious age, of being a stalker.

But something, perhaps a none-too-little dose of mischief, came over me while we were down south. Perhaps it was the total lack of structure, or the fact that I was out with the boys and we were in a grand adventure mood. But as we sat on a bench in the middle of the mall, this scene played out in the store before us. Before I knew it, my shutter finger was twitching.

Whether I should or shouldn't have taken the shot is almost immaterial now...I'm rolling the dice and posting it here because I like the result. My non-guilt notwithstanding, I was pleased to see that service still lives in the world of retail.

Your turn: You know the drill (if you don't, click here.) Shoot a stranger - with a lens, please - and post it to your blog. Drop a comment here, and share the joy with other participants by visiting their entries, too. Repeat. Drag your mother-in-law into the fray, because you know she secretly wants to take pictures of total strangers, too. Have fun with it, as we'll be getting ourselves into trouble with this one for the next week.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

This old bridge

One span. One man.
London, ON, April 2009
About this photo: We're still taking submissions for this week's Thematic theme, singles. Please click here to share yours. What does this photo have to do with singles? Well, single span, with a single person standing on it, taking in the scene. It made for one (sorry) peaceful moment of reflection.
London's Blackfriars Street Bridge is 136 years old, with a wooden deck that needs replacement every few years. My wife hates when I drive over it, worried this ancient piece of engineering will toss us into the icky Thames River below. By any definition, it's obsolete and should have been replaced with a four-lane slab of concrete decades ago.

But it hasn't. And that's a good thing. In a relatively rare feat of historical sensitivity, the powers-that-be who lead our fair burg have decided that this bridge is worth keeping. Interestingly, despite pressure to reduce its function to a pedestrian bridge, relocate it to a petting zoo on the edge of town or turn it into a backdrop for a water slide park, the city has long insisted on keeping it open to regular vehicular traffic. Despite the challenges associated with keeping a century-plus-old bridge fit for the modern world, it somehow works.

Sadly, another old example of civic engineering, the single-lane Sarnia Road Bridge, is headed for a somewhat less charming fate. It's a mere 121 years old, 102 of those years spent in its current location over some railroad tracks. The road it carries, once a near-deserted country lane, now finds itself in the middle of a rapidly expanding suburb. And that 'burb needs four-lane concrete slabs no matter how charming the bridge may be.

The Sarnia Road Bridge is scheduled for dismantling later this spring in anticipation of a major road widening project. No word on where it'll end up, but talk of using pieces of it to - and I'm not making this up - cover a steam engine makes me wonder if perhaps the petting zoo wouldn't have been a better alternative.

I know that preserving history costs money. For Blackfriars, the numbers always worked out. For Sarnia, not so much. But it still stings. Soon we'll have but one span remaining, and even then I wonder how long that one will last before the city's resolve finally runs out.

Your turn: Why do we preserve history?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Light of the world

Light me up
London, ON, March 2010
About this photo: We continue to share single-themed photos as part of this week's Thematic. We'll be doing the single thing right through Thursday, so if you've been waiting by the sidelines, follow your mouse here. Even if you've already shared, you can always share again. That might turn your single into a double, or even a triple, but it's a chance we're willing to take.
Some photographers travel the world in search of the spectacular, the iconic, the famous. They capture scenes that have graced postcards since postcards were first invented - when were they invented, anyway? - as they continue to find ways to paint the familiar in unfamiliar tones.

I don't travel the world. Not much, anyway. I typically travel much closer to home, on the otherwise unremarkable backstreets of a town that most Canadians tend to forget. I don't shoot Eiffel Towers or Vegas strips. Instead, I shoot whatever I find, wherever I find it, no matter how unspectacular it may seem to anyone else.

I'm good leaving the big stuff to others largely because it's not as easy coaxing a moment out of an otherwise forgettable subject. And I've never been into the easy stuff, anyway.

There's a functional honesty in to the ordinary places, scenes and moments we encounter closer to home. Because while someone walking down the Champs Elysee stands a better-than-even chance of bringing something famous home on his/her memory card, only someone walking down a desolate street near a chicken processing plant has any chance at all of capturing the things that no one else ever would.

Besides, who says the lights that guide us home aren't iconic in their own right?

Your turn: How do you capture the ordinary - photographic or not - in your own life?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Single family dwelling

We came across this rather well used Ford Escape in a south Florida parking lot. I was hanging with the kids, zinging them between lunch, beach and family, and enjoying every minute of it. The mood in the car was playful as we figured out our next move, writing the day's script as we went along.

It was about as carefree a day as we'd had in a while, a welcome break from the usual routines of family life back home. On this day, there was no school and no work. There was also no one to visit in hospital, no trips to cemeteries and no unexpected phone calls. They could be kids again.

That all changed after we parked the car near this star-struck SUV. Our daughter noticed it first, wondering aloud at a sight she'd never seen back home. I carefully explained how this seemed to be someone's home, that cars often become homes for those who have no other option.

Our kids paused beside the car, no doubt wondering what separated them from the unseen soul who had filled it beyond the door sills with the leftovers of a challenging life. Needless to say, the inside of this car wasn't as happy as the one we'd just exited. How could it be?

I stopped talking as they watched. They needed to experience the reality without Dad's embellishment. They were - and are - smart enough and sensitive enough to figure out for themselves how lucky they are, and how the lessons they've been learning all their lives - charity, community, empathy among them - often present themselves in jarring ways when they least expect it.

Another life lesson I wish the world didn't have to teach them.

Your turn: How do you explain homelessness to a child?

Nothing sucks like...a Kenmore?

Last stand

London, ON
October 2009
About this photo: It's Thematic's "singles" week. The cool kids are going here to join in. Just because.
I have a funny little tradition that involves taking pictures of things just before they're thrown out or recycled. I've been doing it ever since I got my first camera, but it really picked up steam after I transitioned into digital and started shooting everything in sight.

Like so many of my, er, habits, I'm not entirely sure why they evolved the way they did. I guess I discovered that retaining photos of things that were no longer around helped me build a bit of history in my head.

So when I see that picture of our old vacuum waiting to be picked up by the landfill-filler-person, it takes me back to the day we bought it, and how strangely adult my wife and I felt that we were slowly bringing our first home to life. It looked so forlorn on the last morning before it was taken away for good, and I didn't want it to disappear without so much as a trace.

In the end, it's just stuff, and anyone who knows me knows that I don't much covet stuff. People, after all, are far more precious. But the occasional milestone photo may not be such a bad way of reminding me why some people are as precious as they are, and why the journey we've taken together has been so charmed.

I'll go with that rationale for now.

Your turn: Do you take pictures of things before you toss them out? Do tell.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Ronald McDonald's Singular Stupidity

Really fine print
Binghamton, NY, November 2009
[Click here for more "singles" ridiculousness]

With 7+ billion people on the planet, I get that we need a few rules here and there to keep things under a certain semblance of control.

I am somewhat amused, however, at the near-maniacal way legalese has infected North American life - okay, I'm being's really an American thing - like a case of structural mold in post-Katrina New Orleans. It's everywhere, it's growing, and no one seems to have the willingness or the ability to raise a hand and say. "Enough".

Consider this my enough moment. Because when a silly little McDonald's contest generates more 6-point-font words than I've written over the previous six months, words that most participants will never read let along have a prayer of understanding, something is wrong. Very, very wrong.

Your turn: Why have we reached this point? How do we back away from the edge of the fine print cliff? Am I the only one who finds this nuts?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The wave that made me think

Soon it won't exist
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
[Click here to share your own single-themed photo]

This is either a single wave or a loosely bound collection of billions of water molecules crashing toward a forced, cataclysmic rearrangement. Either way, the sight nearly hypnotized me, and I could have stood in the surf for hours watching the waves roll in, one after another.

I couldn't decide if they were all the same or all remarkably unique from each other. Then I realized it didn't matter what I thought. It was simply a privilege to be there, taking in the spectacle inherent in a place where one world ends and another begins.

Sometimes, it's enough to just absorb the feel of a place without necessarily feeling like you need to understand it.

Your turn: You're standing beside the open ocean. What's going through your mind?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Going nowhere

Won't wait for the auto club
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
About this photo: Thematic's "singles" week hits full stride with this look at a singularly depressing moment in the life of a singularly depressing car. Click here to share your own singles-themed moment: All the cool kids are doing it.
This isn't a particularly memorable car, a second-generation Mercury Sable (92 to 95, if memory serves) that hasn't weathered the years with much grace. From the looks of things on this not-altogether-warm-and-sunny afternoon, today wasn't a good day for either the car or its mobile-challenged owner.

I doubt this gentleman will ever know that a complete stranger used a long-ish lens to reach across the parking lot to capture the moment. Perhaps it's just as well. Some quiet struggles almost beg to be shared anonymously*.

Your turn: What's he thinking?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thematic Photographic 133 - Singles

Delray Beach, FL, December 2010

I've chosen "singles" as the Thematic theme for the next week because, at its most basic, it's a very simple theme. Pictures with one thing in 'em. Anything that suggests "one". That's it.

This one's gonna be fun. Whaddya got?

Your turn: If you're new to Thematic, click here for the sorta-rules. If you're a grizzled Thematic vet, I'll leave you to pick your pic, share it on your blog, leave a comment here, visit other participants, share a few more, and nag your friends to join in. Because deep down, I suspect you really love this stuff.

At the water's edge

Depth of field
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010

I couldn't resist tossing in one last curvy shot before we introduce our next Thematic theme, singles, at 7 o'clock Eastern tonight.

This particular place is an important one to our kids, a place they've come to every year for a good chunk of their lives, a place mere steps from their grandparents' winter home, a place where they can simply be kids without worrying about studying or schedules.

This particular afternoon wasn't any different than any other. Small groups of people sat around on deck chairs, chatting about the weather, their grandkids, their grandparents, their neighbors, and whatever else came to mind. Different ages shared the space, easily enjoying their own slice of a very pleasant afternoon. No one seemed to ever want to leave.

I closed my eyes and just listened to the overlapping snippets reflecting across the water. It felt warm, friendly, good. Weeks after we returned home to the inevitable studying and schedules of the typical modern family, I look at this picture, close my eyes and once again hear that sound. It feels just as warm, friendly and good now as it did then.

As vivid as this feels to me, however, I'm willing to bet our kids remember this place even more richly than I ever could.

Your turn: Can a photo bring you back to a memorable time and place? How?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

On curved wings

Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
About this photo: Thematic's curved theme slowly winds down as we prepare for Thursday night's launch of our new theme. It's not too late to get curvy, though. Just click here. And check back tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for what comes next.
It's been a while since I shared a bird photo*. Folks who've hung around me for a while know about my semi-addiction to gulls. I don't know if it's the fact that they're literally everywhere, or that they're so graceful in the air, or what. For whatever reason, I keep coming back to them. And they keep bringing me joy every time I spy them through the lens.

Your turn: A topic that brings you repeated joy. Please discuss.

* Earlier gull-themed photos can be found here, here and here. Want more?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Little man. Big airport.

Alone among the crowds
Toronto, ON, December 2010
[Please click here to share your curved vision]

The dad in me always wants to view the world through our kids' eyes. And if I can't precisely accomplish this, I at least hope to get the occasional peek over their shoulder. Not because of any Big Brother-ish intentions, but because seeing things as they see them is good for the soul. It teaches us about the things that really ought to matter, because kids have a neat way of cutting through the clutter and figuring out what's really important, and why.

On this morning, I found myself walking a few steps behind our youngest son. We were heading to Florida on vacation, and he was about to board a plane for the first time. We had already talked extensively about the theories of flight and walked through what he would expect as the plane started its takeoff run.

He's a smart, insightful, thoughtful kid, so I knew he understood the theory implicitly. But he's still a little boy, and it was hard to tell, as we walked back to meet the rest of the family, whether he was just a little scared by the adventure that was about to begin. The very big airport filled with lots of strangers surrounding him seemed to be the perfect context for the day - and for this photo. As I tripped the shutter, I found myself wishing he'd always have all the help he needs to navigate whatever curves life throws at him.

Your turn: What's he thinking?