Sunday, July 31, 2011

Big(ger) Boy

Ten years, almost done
London, ON, July 2011

This is the last picture I took of our little man, Noah, before he fell asleep as a 10-year-old last night. As you can see, he wasn't too into the unplanned photo shoot, and drifted off into dreamland soon after I tucked the camera away and headed back downstairs.

As annoying as I clearly was - and as surely as I knew my Parent of the Year Award would disappear because of this - I didn't want to miss this moment in his life. Sure, it's an arbitrary one, determined by the powers-that-be who long ago decided that time would be measured with clocks and calendars. But he's been looking forward to it for weeks, talking about it every opportunity he can get. It's important to him. And if it's important to him, it's important to us, too. Hence the pic.

Just like his older brother and sister, he's in a relentless rush to grow up. He can't wait to grow taller, to be old enough to go places and do things that are already routine to his siblings. But as our youngest - our baby - there's a part of us that just doesn't want to let go of the little boy in him. He has such a good heart, a good soul, a help-others-before-himself way of living that we wish there were some way to ensure he holds onto that innate sweetness as he grows.

We were at the mall last week, and as we often do when we're out, my wife and I each grab a kid or two and head in opposite directions. Not that we don't want to be together - we do - but it helps us cover more ground in less time. So on this day, I had Noah. And as we headed toward our first destination, he put his hand in mine. Just like that. He held my hand for virtually the entire time we were on our own. I said nothing, not wanting to draw attention to how much it melted my heart that our son still wanted to hold his dad's hand.

Someday soon, it won't be so cool for him to hold my hand. And like so many other touchstones of his being a little boy, it'll slip into history, both his and ours. And we'll miss what it felt like. Soon after that, he'll be taller than me, with a deeper voice and a focus not so much on what goes on inside our house, but on what opportunities lie beyond.

It's unfolding exactly as it should for a kid who knows who he is, appreciates what he has, loves everyone around him and touches souls wherever he goes. He won't be a little boy for much longer, but those delicious insides will always help him stand out as he works his way through the world.

Happy birthday, little man. Know how much you're loved.

Your turn: Your wish for Noah is...?

One more thing: My lovely wife wrote this. She always says it better than I ever could.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Big sky country

Lost in the clouds
Laval, QC, July 2011
[Please click photo to enlarge]
About this photo: If it's big, we want you to shoot it and share it. Head here to get in on Thematic's big week.
There are some subjects that'll never get old, that are worth coming back to again and again because you always find some new way to look at them. I count sunrises and sunsets among them, and I'll apologize now if the repetition is getting a little, well, repetitious.

Sometimes I think the actual picture is less important than the feeling I get when I take it. As the day ends, you have a few fleeting minutes to feel the moment before it slips into history. Tomorrow morning will bring on a whole new performance in the sky, but it's up to you, right here and right now, to remember the last little bit of today. You feel a little bit small, a little bit peaceful, and a little bit humble to be witnessing something so extraordinary.

Or maybe it just feels good to be out on the balcony, quietly trying to capture a feeling through a lens. Maybe it can be as simple as that.

Your turn: What does the sunset mean to you?

Friday, July 29, 2011

On finding light in the darkness

"I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars."

Og Mandino

On never keeping silent

The world is not dangerous because of the harmful, but because of those who do nothing about it .
Albert Einstein
I grew up learning about the Holocaust. I'm privileged to have heard the stories from those who survived. What sticks with me more robustly than the images of the atrocities themselves is the fact that so many stood by and allowed it to happen. The conspiracy of silence is a sad side-effect of - and contributor to - the enormous tragedies that so often scar our planet. And us.

Makes me wonder when we'll start using our voices a little more courageously.

Your turn: When do you speak up? Why wouldn't you?

Big budget

Coddled athlete?
Orangeburg, NY, July 2011

I noticed this car in the hotel parking lot. It is a BMW 650i convertible. There were three identical vehicles parked here. I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions over how well athletics are apparently funded here.

My cynicism aside, however, it didn't stop me from taking out the camera for an impromptu photo shoot. Some things just beg for a picture or six.

Your turn: So how do we score a cushy promo vehicle like this for ourselves?

One more thing: The big parade continues. Don't know what I'm talking about? Go here, and all will be explained. More or less. But you'll enjoy the experience regardless.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On two wheels

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
H. G. Wells
Your turn: Do you ride? Why?

I am the walrus

Even mom would love this face
Quebec City, QC, July 2011
[Please click photo to embiggen]

This is my big*, new friend, a walrus I met at the Quebec Aquarium. It was a hot day, and he was busy alternating between swims in his pool and hanging out underneath the sprinkler - all to the delight of our kids. And if we're being honest, us, too.

It's hard to tell what he thought of the endless parade of strangers, all staring at him with smiles on their faces. I hope he somehow knows how much everyone loved him. Just because.

Your turn: Communicating with animals. Please discuss.

* Big. Thematic. Here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On a different kind of bomb

"Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one.... and cover the world with imagination."
Robert Fulghum

Your turn: How do you spread imagination?

Going to see a kid about a horse

My new friend
Quebec City, QC, July 2011
About this photo: We're celebrating big all week long. If you've got a picture somewhere that suggests "big", we hope you'll head over here and share it.
There's something reaffirming about watching kids with animals. They seem to communicate far better with our furry friends than we do. Maybe we can learn something from the innocence of childhood. Maybe it'll help us become better adults.

I watched this child talk to the horse for at least a couple of minutes. The horse, in turn, seemed to appreciate the attention as it waited for the next set of tourists to board the caleche behind him. It was a sweet moment that once again reminded me that small kindnesses continue to matter, and some kids seem to understand that innately.

Your turn: What can we learn from a child?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On never keeping silent

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King never fails to move me with the eloquence and power of his words. How I wish the world still had him.

Your turn: What will prompt you to speak up?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Thematic Photographic 155 - Big

Impressive span
Quebec City, QC, July 2011

This week's theme, big, reflects my ongoing desire to shoot large objects and make them seem a little more real in the process. Here's my Exhibit A, the Quebec Bridge that spans the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. When I was a child with dreams of building bridges - long before the geek-infused media/writer bug bit me - this was the structure I studied first. Eighty-nine people died during its construction - thanks largely to two massive collapses and a complete redesign to boot. It opened in 1917, and to this day holds the record as the longest cantilevered span in the world.

Oddly, I had never seen this structure in person until this month. When I realized we were staying a mere few blocks from it, I danced the kind of happy dance that makes my wife and children roll their eyes with mock exasperation. Or maybe it isn't mock. Whatever. What matters is that I got the shot. And I got to spend a few minutes staring at a working piece of engineering history. A big day indeed.

Your turn: Take a picture of something big, post it to your blog, then leave a comment here. Already got something online? That'll work, too. Visit other participants to share in the photographic joy, and repeat as often as you wish. It's all about sharing, learning and fun, and we hope you enjoy this week's theme. For more background on how Thematic works, please click here.

Investors to RIM: Not enough


Research In Motion sacks 2,000 people to placate antsy investors. When the markets open, instead of congratulating the company for tightening its belt and driving change, they continue the selloff.

By day's end, the share price sinks another 4.5%. I'm guessing they weren't convinced. I'm also guessing there's at least another round or two of layoffs and reorgs before the street is happy.

I'm also guessing if you're among the 89% of employees not receiving pink slips this week, you're already allocating most of your workday to updating the resume, kickstarting the network and seeing what opportunities are out there. Investors never seem to care about the human costs of so-called streamlining, rightsizing or any other euphemistically named actions that destroy communities and lives. Six months from now matters little to the short-seller.

Welcome to the age of management-by-outsiders, folks. Fun, isn't it?

RIM lays off 2,000. Investors get what they want.

You never want to hear news like this, so this isn't a happy way to start the week.

But it is what it is. And as BlackBerry (and PlayBook) maker Research In Motion, the once do-no-wrong Canadian success story that virtually created the modern smartphone market, now faces the sobering reality of retrenching - oops, they call it "streamlining" - operations while competitors continue to expand, we're left wondering what comes next. We're also left wondering whether the company will continue to fight for market dominance, or simply narrow its focus on smaller market niches.

Lots of reasons for this, all of which I've discussed and written about at length in recent months. And will continue to do so in the days and weeks ahead. But the thing that sticks in my mind as the news begins to sink in is this: Investors will doubtless be pleased that the company is tightening expenses during . But like petulant children who whine to their parents until they give in, they may get what they want in the near term at the expense of what they need over the long haul.

It's a wants vs. needs thing, and I'm not convinced the investors' clamoring for this appreciate the long-term implications. Or whether they even care about them - and the affected people - at all.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On the world needing kindness

"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."
Dalai Lama
I can't quite explain why these words seem to resonate more strongly with me today than they normally would. On second thought, maybe I can. Whatever. Maybe if more of us took the time to heed these words, our world would be a far kinder, gentler place than it currently is.

We can always hope, right?

Every boy's dream

Look what showed up in my rear-view
Quebec City, QC, July 2011

Click photo to embiggen

Like many children with better things to do during elementary school classes, I doodled in the back of my notebook. More often than not, I'd sketch cars. Not Corollas or Chevettes, mind you, but low, wedge-like shapes that had zero everyday practicality and limitless appeal to a 10-year-old boy.

To this day, the mere sight of an exotic or a near-exotic is enough to turn my head. Our kids seem to have inherited the head-turning gene, for after we parked near this Audi R8 (V10!) on our way to dinner, they silently walked toward this otherworldly piece of engineering and drank it in. Unlike the three-row, relatively fuel efficient and eminently affordable vehicle we arrived in, this one costs more than some houses, uses enough gas to make a Saudi sheikh's day - or year - and has about enough cargo space for a couple of sticks of gum.

But none of that mattered to the munchkins on this night. The car was special. The moment they shared was special, too, because dreaming about beautiful and impractical things is as much a touchstone of childhood today as it was a generation ago. So I quietly hung back and tried to save a few frames through my lens.

Your turn: What exotic and usually unattainable things did you dream about as a kid?

One more thing: I shot this while on vacation. If you've shot something while on vacation, as well, go here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ever been to Yeehaw Junction?

What I wouldn't give to have an address here
Yeehaw Junction, FL, January 2005
About this photo: We're still trolling our vacation-pic archives, and we hope you'll join us on our never-ending quest to spread the Thematic joy. What the heck am I talking about? Click here and all will be explained.
Pardon the really muddy composition and focus on this one. Between an ancient point-and-shoot and the fact that I grabbed it at close range while whizzing by at triple-digit speed (I'm Canadian, and we measure speed in kilojouleagrammametres) I'm amazed that it came out at all.

But the quality of the photo isn't the thing. The name of the place referred to on the sign, on the other hand, is. It's neat. And it got me wondering about all the other neat place-names out there.

Your turn: Know any cool place-names from your own travels?

On Amy Winehouse, parents, and camp kids

The Twittersphere is burning up with news that Amy Winehouse has been found dead. According to authorities, the 27-year-old singer's death is currently "unexplained", but given her long history of drug abuse, it's hardly a surprise ending for such a tortured soul.

Timing is always a sad thing, because her passing comes in the wake of yesterday's horrific massacre in Norway. A bombing in downtown Oslo was followed almost immediately by an unimaginable shooting of schoolchildren at a summer camp.

With apologies to the family of Ms. Winehouse, whose loss is incalculable after years of skirting the ragged edge of life, but I'm choosing to focus today on the lives of children who never even had the chance to get that far in life. All they wanted to do was attend camp with their friends. Instead, they were hunted down like animals.

Some days, the world is a sad, sad place. I wish I knew how to make it a little happier.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On the futility of forecasting

"The economy depends as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters."
Jean-Paul Kauffmann
Mr. Kauffmann's words seem somewhat more relevant given that much of North America now swelters under temperatures that most of us will have forgotten by the time the first big snow hits, all as the U.S. government wrestles with historic levels of debt and impending budget crisis.

Lots of prognostication on both fronts, none of it anywhere remotely accurate or useful.

Your turn: Look into your crystal ball. What do you see?

Not the Michelin Man

Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, July 2011
About this photo: We're sharing vacation photos all week long. You can, too: Just go here.
One of the neat things about parenthood is getting to watch your kids grow into fully formed people. It's not so much a size thing as it is a personality thing. While, yes, it is wonderful that they can now dress themselves, walk around under their own power and chat with us at eye-level, the real thrill comes from seeing them develop their own interests, tastes and voices.

On that front, our kids seem to be doing just fine. To wit, our daughter took this picture while were were walking on the long breakwater that juts into Lake of Two Mountains off of Montreal's western tip. She noticed the tire barrier first, and called me over as she lined up the shot. It's the kind of oddball scene that I'd shoot - only now she's noticing them first, and she's capturing them in ways I never would have imagined.

Cool how that works.

Your turn: How did you find your own voice?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The medium is the message. Or is it?

Today's a pretty notable day for folks interested in understanding not just how media and technology work, but how they change our world. And how they change us, for that matter. That's because 100 years ago today, Marshall McLuhan was born.

He may not be a household name, but his theories and perspectives on media may sound familiar. "The medium is the message" is probably his most famous line. "Global village," too. "Turn on, tune in, drop out" may have been made famous by Timothy Leary, but McLuhan originated it. Beyond these sound bites for the ages, the man was a professor, a visionary, someone who wasn't afraid to leave the past behind as he painted a picture of a radically different future for us all.

He died December 31, 1980, long before the Internet became a reality for most of us. But his writing accurately predicted the kind of interconnected, permanently changed world that ensued. For much of my own career, I've nodded toward his legacy as I've evolved my somewhat contrarian view that the vessels of technology, the gadgets, matter far less than the implications of their use.

I was privileged to receive an assignment from Yahoo! Canada this week to write about the man and this milestone. The piece, 100 years today: Predictor of the Internet Marshall McLuhan leaves lasting message, published on the site's Daily Brew blog earlier today. Here's the link.

I hope you enjoy the read. And I hope you'll pop back here when you're done to share a thought or two.

The Shuttle Era ends

One last dance
Low Earth Orbit, July 2011

As the Space Shuttle Atlantis approached the International Space Station last week, I propped my laptop up on the dining room table at my in-laws' place and blew the video stream of the event up to full-screen. I've lost count of how many of these in-orbit ballets I've watched since the shuttle first joined the Unity and Zarya nodes together way back in December 1998, yet they somehow never got old. Even on this day, as OV-104 approached the ISS for the last time.

The kids buzzed around the house, every once in a while popping over to my machine to check on its progress. They asked questions, I answered them, and I hoped that enough of the morning would sink in and stick in their minds as previous moments in history had stuck in mine. You can never tell, of course, but you can always do your best as a parent to simply give them the opportunity to remember.

It's 5:57 a.m. ET, July 21, 2011, and Atlantis's wheels have just stopped for the last time on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway. There will be no more launches, no more dockings, undockings, re-entries or landings. All of this is now history. The next time we see an orbiter, it'll be on display at one of three museums scattered around the country. These incredible vehicles, built to do unprecedented things in the vacuum of space, will never return to the environment they were designed to explore.

As I watch this moment in history unfold, I'm reminded of the following quote:
"A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are built for."
John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928
Indeed, while these ships have now returned to harbor for good, we're left to hope the future holds the potential for other ships to not only leave safe harbor and return to the sometimes-dangerous seas they explored so well for so long, but to push well beyond our own world, to places not even the visionaries who designed these vessels so long ago could have ever imagined.

It's been a trip, hasn't it?

Your turn: Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Atlantis comes down for good

I admit I'm feeling a little bummed. The last operational space shuttle finishes its last mission tomorrow (Thursday) morning with a 5:58 a.m. landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. Somewhat ironically, the shuttle is spending its final day in orbit exactly 42 years to the day since Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

When Atlantis rolls to a stop on the runway in the pre-dawn murk, that'll be it. The only thing left to do will be to tow her off the runway and prepare her for life as a museum exhibit. Quite a comedown for a vehicle designed to lap the planet at 28,000 km/h.

I'll be up to watch her come home because history only happens once. I watched Columbia launch on STS-1, Challenger explode on liftoff, and Columbia shatter on re-entry. The program has spanned a large chunk of my life, so it only seems fitting to lose a little sleep as it draws to a close.

I'll probably have more to say in the quiet moments between wheels-stop and a stirring household. But for now, I hope you'll take a moment to think about what historical inflection points like this mean - or ought to mean - to regular folks like us. And where we need to go next.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On art

"Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life."
Henry Miller
And with that, I'll go conjure up something from nothing, as another deadline looms.

Before I dig into the piece, I'd like to share a quick observation: I've been writing professionally for years, yet the magic of the creative process - and its ability to reach out and impact others - will never wear off.

Art. Life. It's all the same to me. What about you?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thematic Photographic 154 - Vacation

Someone found Nemo
Saint-Leonard d'Aston, QC, July 2011

I think this week will be an opportune time to swap vacation photos, so I've chosen vacation as our latest Thematic theme. We just got back from a lovely week-and-a-bit in Montreal and Quebec City, and as I begin the frightening process of sifting through the mountain of pictures we all took, I realize just how much ground we covered and how lucky we are to have a digital record of the experience.

And of Nemo, who we found in a tank in a memorable rest stop called Le Madrid halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. It's the kind of family-run place that seemingly no longer exists, with crumbling fiberglass dinosaurs at the edge of the parking lot, and a giant pink monster truck thrown in for good measure. Inside, the locked-in-the-1970s theme continues with formica-meets-vinyl decor lit by dim, mostly bare and yellowing incandescent bulbs. A Zoltar machine - think Tom Hanks in Big and you're not far off - completes the motif.

Despite the overt kitsch, everyone seems to know everyone else's name here, and it strangely feels like a slice of home in the middle of a long journey. For now, anyway, as the site's been sold and will be demolished in a couple of months. In its place, the developers promise a modern service facility. I'm not entirely convinced that's a good thing, and I'm glad we got to experience this place, crumbling fiberglass dinosaurs and all, before it slips into history.

Anyone want to adopt a clown fish?

Your turn: If you've recorded your own vacation travels, I hope you'll share some pics on your blog - or point to ones you've already shared - and then leave a comment here letting us know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy. No wagering. No competition. Just good summer - or winter - vacation fun with a camera. If you're new to Thematic, our weekly photo-sharing thing, just click here. Either way, have fun with it!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The things we learn from a danish

We've been (relatively far) away from home for a bit, catching up with friends, extended family and each other. It's been good for the body and good for the soul to detach ourselves from the routine of the everyday, to forget, if just for a minute, whether a particular day falls during the work week or on a weekend.

The experience reminds me why we need to do this regularly: because life moves fast, and we miss a lot of neat stuff if we don't.

One morning at the hotel's breakfast nook, I came across these danish. Logic said I shouldn't have eaten them. Too much fat and not enough actual nutrition. I'm not getting any younger, and my ability to eat as many of these as I want without showing the effects is disappearing quickly.

But it was one of those unique vacation moments that I didn't want to lose. I made a big deal out of shooting the scene with my BlackBerry's camera, then offered to carry the entire tray with us for the day. The kids thought I was nuts, but that's nothing new. They also thought the whole thing was funny. And unique. Which I hoped was the entire point.

In the end, I ate one danish each morning. And I hope the munchkins remember how much I enjoyed it. And how sweet breakfast can be when we take the time to notice the small things, and to share them with the folks who matter most.

Your turn: How do you share small, everyday happies? Why does it even matter?

One more thing: The icing is more or less parallel, is it not. If you're Thematically inclined, you know what to do.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On bridges

"The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn."
David Russell
This one makes sense to me today. I wish I knew why.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Burn the sky

Continuing the parallel theme, I wanted to share this fireworks shot, captured Canada Day 2010, because it just seems so randomly - and temporarily - parallel. It disappeared from view almost as quickly as it appeared, and all we had to remember the moment was a series of traces on a memory card.

This life thing is ephemeral. Blink and it's gone. Which makes me think I've got to try harder to remember what happens in those fleeting moments before whatever-it-is passes into history.

Your turn: What tricks do you use to remember?

If these windows could talk

This old building
London, ON
July 2011
About this photo: We're exploring the crazy world of parallel lines all week long, so if you're into the Thematic thing and want to share your own parallel vision, head here.
Our family's adventurous summer included a visit a couple of weeks ago to the ER with our daughter (story here). And as I made my way back into the hospital to meet them after parking the car, I quickly shot some pictures in the parking lot. Not because the scene was artistically brilliant in any way, but because when I'm stressed, taking pictures of whatever surrounds me (see here) seems to calm me down and give me focus. And later on, it lets me revisit the experience through a lens that might not have been possible had I not cracked out the camera in the middle of it all.

So in addition to the smokestacks, I captured this view of the sunset-lit facade of one of the old hospital buildings. Like many hospitals, this one's been added to over the years to the point that the entire thing looks like a jumble of mismatched buildings, all from different eras. For some odd reason, it's always the old ones that capture my attention. And on this night, it was this particularly forgotten piece of architecture that reflected the light more beautifully than any other part of this gigantic facility.

I guess I was looking for small and comforting. And I guess I found it in that brief moment before I tucked the camera back away and headed inside.

Your turn: Do you find comfort in older things? Why?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Setting priorities

Ever have one of those days where you find yourself completely unable to string words together? That would describe the day I've just had. Because I spent it unplugged, and hanging around some charming folks who look like me and deserved my undivided attention.

So a somewhat coherent, value-added, Carmi-branded contribution to the blogosphere will have to wait until tomorrow. I'm sure the world will function just fine until then.

And the day? A delight that we'll all remember for a while. Nothing earth-shattering, but important in our adventure as a family all the same. Note to self: Do this more often.

Your turn: How do you recharge yourself?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On contentment

"Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life."
Wayne Dyer
I'm thankful that I get to do what I love, that I enjoy it so much that it rarely seems like work at all. Do you love what you do?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thematic Photographic 153 - Parallel

Where the fingers hit the road
London, ON, May 2011

I'm somewhat manic about input/output devices, things like keyboards, mice, displays and the various technologies and supporting structures like desks and chairs that keep me comfy while I write. I've been known to buy and return keyboard after keyboard until I get just the right one, with just the right layout and feel. If something feels even slightly off, it can be distracting. Store clerks have learned to hate me.

Until now, that is. Because I've found my all-time favorite keyboard. It's Apple's standard wired keyboard, the one with perfectly placed, perfectly built keys that let my fingers fly, the one that used to come with every Mac until they switched to the small-sized wireless one. I tried that one, but hated it because it didn't have separate keypads for arrows and numbers. It slowed me down. I whined. My wife rolled her eyes. Then I headed to the store.

When I got it home, I noticed it had some lovingly parallel lines built into it. So I reached for my camera...

Your turn: Please share a picture of something parallel-themed on your blog - or find something you may have already posted online long ago - and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Drop by other participants to share the joy. This is not a competition: Rather, it's designed to stretch our photographic horizons in an enjoyable way. So have fun with it. We'll be doing this all week before launching our next theme next Monday. If you'd like additional background on how Thematic Photographic works, click here.

Reach for the sky

The smaller I feel
Woodstock, ON, July 2011

I'd like to close out this week's vertical theme* with this quick capture from my recent road trip. I was on the final leg of the drive home, and had stopped at a highway service station for some much needed fresh air and caffeine. The light was fading fast, so I thought it made sense to crack out the camera and see what I could get.

Not much, apparently. But still, this one made me think. Of Kasey Kasem, of all people, the radio DJ with the almost-too-good-to-be-true voice. He used to end off his American Top 40 (don't mock: I was 9 years-old!) with the tag line: "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."

It didn't mean a whole lot to me at the time, and if we're being frank, I doubt it meant much to him, either. I think it sounded good, so he latched onto it. But as I stood in the parking lot and stared at this lamp standard, the line popped back into my head. The structure was huge to me, a looking presence over my somewhat average height. Yet, it, too, was dwarfed by the overwhelming sky above. And as hard as it stretched, it would never even come close to touching it.

Never mind that we never quite get there, though. We've got to keep reaching.

Your turn: How do you keep reaching?

* Our new Thematic theme, parallel, launches tonight at 7 o'clock Eastern.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On goodness

"Goodness is uneventful. It does not flash, it glows."
David Grayson
Kind of gives lie to that whole big bang theory, no? I guess it makes sense to sweat the small stuff, after all.

Your turn: The one good thing I've done today is...?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Painting the atmosphere

Natural and artificial clouds
London, ON, May 2011
About this photo: It's vertical week all week long - well, until Monday, anyway - here at Written Inc. We call it Thematic, and it's our weekly photo sharing extravaganza. If you've got a vertical-themed pic kicking around your archives, click here to share it.
Now that I'm back from my big road trip - over a thousand miles in three days - I can't seem to get thoughts of travel out of my head. The whole wandering-alone-across-the-land vibe seems to dominate everything I see.

Like this picture. When I took it around six weeks ago, it was just a picture of some clouds and a contrail in the hours or so before sunset. Now, I wonder about the unseen people in that plane, where they were going and why, and whether any of them stared out the window and took in the view from a much higher perspective than my own. I wondered what they'd think if I could show them this picture.

In retrospect, I realize that there's a whole lot of wonder wrapped up in pictures like this. That it's anything but routine to kiss your family goodbye, close the door behind you and set off for distant, strange places. That it's good for the soul to change our perspective every once in a while. And it's even better for the soul to walk up the front steps, open the door and drink in what awaits inside.

Your turn: Do you have a wanderlust?

Friday, July 08, 2011

He's ready for kindergarten

Dinner is not served
London, ON, May 2011

This is where my wife found the dog when she came home from school one fine afternoon. He's quite the vertical operator, scaling the table if he finds a chair even slightly out of place. He's done this more often than we care to admit. Silly boy, however, is unable to get himself down once he gets up there. So we're not entirely sure how long he spent up there before Debbie rescued him.

Well, she snagged this picture on her BlackBerry before she rescued him. Posterity rules, y'know.

Crazy puppy turns five today. He's technically not a puppy, but we don't let that sway us. He's our puppy. Always was and always will be. We hover over him with worry - the diabetes and more recent infection have turned him into the canine equivalent of a needle-stuck junkie - but he's still that crazy ball of fur we rescued all those years ago. It was really only a little over four years, mind you, but it seems like he's been a part of us forever.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not worried about what the future holds for him. He fights the insulin injections like a championship wrestler, his sugar levels are still wonky and rustling him from a deep sleep can be a more than a little challenging - and frightening - some days. I don't know how many more birthdays he has in him. But whatever days we're given, we'll treasure them.

I'm heartened by how the kids have been since he first got sick. They play with him just as they always have. And instead of merely paying lip service to the feeding-and-walking routine, they've stepped up. Noah takes him out back. Zach feeds him and helps distract him at injection time. Dahlia makes sure he gets enough water and playtime. If they harbor any fears about their little buddy, they don't show it.

In so many respects, dogs echo humans. There are no guarantees how many birthdays they - or we - receive. All we can do is squeeze the most goodness out of the ones we've been given. Looking at our puppy in the middle of my remarkable family tonight, it's clear we're all doing just that.

Your turn: How do you make the most out of a given day?

On Atlantis once more sinking beneath the waves

"We have the power, knowledge and equipment to build a world beyond our wonder. Only loss of nerve can defeat us. That is all."
James Dillet Freeman
As I post this, today's planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis on the program's final mission, STS-135, is up in the air due to cloudy and rainy weather at the launch site. Part of me hopes she doesn't fly today, as I don't necessarily relish seeing the launch pad after the vehicle is gone for good. I guess I don't do so well with endings.

This quote seems to reflect my mood insofar as the U.S. space program is concerned. It is - or was, anyway - a marquee program, a national competency that sent a global message. It said, over and over, that a country that can put humans into space is special. It leads. It takes risk. It makes sacrifices to drive change back home.

That all ends when Atlantis reaches wheels-stop at the end of this penultimate mission. All that leadership and capability? Gone. Thousands of people who've spent decades pushing the bounds of engineering have either lost their jobs or are about to - all with no replacement program in sight.

And as the country systematically allows its manned space flight skills to dissolve into history, Mr. Freeman's words seem strangely prescient: The nation lost its nerve. I hope it gets it back someday.

Your turn: Do you have any thoughts on the end of the shuttle program?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Look behind the glass curtain

Sorry, birds
London, ON
August 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic celebrates all things vertical this week. You can, too, by clicking here and adding your own pic to the fray. It won't hurt. Much.
As I stare at some ornate old building, I often find myself subconsciously musing that something like this just wouldn't get built today. Inevitably, some bean counter would seek out the gargoyles, flourishes, cornices and columns and deem them absolute wastes of money. Said bean boy would probably be right, as the world can easily live without another stone replica of a cherubic angel keeping guard over pedestrians too bored to ever look up.

Eventually, the trim-the-fat movement efficiently excises every last cherub from our midst, leaving us with flat surfaces like the one you see here. They're often completely devoid of variation, ruthlessly repetitive themes that hardly seem human at all.

But are they ugly? I'm not entirely sure they are. Just because it's easy to find something to love when you're staring at a cherub doesn't mean a less feature-filled sight - like this glass curtain building envelope - is any less capable of delivering optical joy.

Modern architecture that's seemingly devoid of extraneous features isn't worse, nor is is better. It's just different, and it's up to us to find that joy no matter what we're looking at.

While we're all chewing on this literary-photographic piece of obtuseness, I'll be zoom-zooming my rented Mazda Mazda3 (the car so nice they named it twice) through the hills of New York State on my way home. I like this direction much better than the other one precisely because of what awaits on the other side. And when I get there? Not a gargoyle in sight.

Your turn: What do you see in the glass above? Look closely. Maybe even squint a little.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

On blazing your own trail

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I thought it was particularly timely to share this one now, as I'm currently far from home a day after a long drive through pitch black, winding mountain roads filled with seemingly lobotomized drivers. Tomorrow I'll finish up my work here, pack the rental car and turn for home.

What awaits me at the other end makes the homeward leg infinitely preferable to the outbound one.

Your turn: How do you create your own path? (Sorry for my existentialism. Being alone in strange places seems to do that to me.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Another year I clearly don't deserve

At precisely 19 years after the moment when my fiance became my wife, I will be rather ingloriously piloting a rental car through the hinterlands of New York and New Jersey, some 800 km from home. That's right: I'm celebrating our wedding anniversary by going on a business trip. Alone.

Annals of marriage, eh?

Before you slice me a new one, bear in mind that the career thing is what allows the home thing to continue along its merry way. We work, we get paid, we live. Sometimes things don't align as neatly as we'd like, like this week when the project schedule dictated my presence far away. It is what it is, and I'll find some way to ensure the remaining 364 days of our 20th year (!) of marriage are somewhat more charmed. And together.

My oafishness aside, I recognize how lucky I am. I'm as difficult to live with as you can imagine. Probably worse. I forget stuff. I wander off at the most inconvenient moments. I'm curmudgeonly. I've heard that I snore. I shrink stuff in the dryer. It's hell to get me out of bed in the morning. I could go on for a while...

(And here you thought my online persona was oh so pristine. Sorry for the letdown. I'm human.)

And through it all, my wife somehow found me attractive enough to date, then marry, then stay married to. Almost two decades on, I'm still trying to figure out what it is that she sees, why she hasn't fled to the exits. I know I'm the lucky bastard here, the one who gets to spend a lifetime with a kind-hearted, natural-born mother, a virtuoso cook, a gifted teacher, a good soul who isn't just my best friend, but the greatest friend to those lucky enough to know her.

Our family's world revolves around her, and it all started with a few sacred words under the chupah and a shattered glass under my foot. What we've built since then frankly amazes me, and I can't imagine having taken this journey with anyone else. Call me incredibly selfish, but I never want it to end.

Your turn: Your anniversary wish for my wife is...?

One more thing: My wife posted this entry to her blog. I hope you'll drop in and share a happy word or two with her.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Thematic Photographic 152 - Vertical

Reach for the sky
London, ON
June 2011

I've been here before, in the hospital parking lot, and like the last time I stood on this spot, I had a camera in my hand. Here's the link.

What's changed? Well, for one, it was late evening this time out, and the sickly backlit scene had been replaced by a perfectly blue-sky/golden-hour moment. Oh, and they seem to have either repainted or recladded the stacks in the 5-ish years since I last pointed my lens in this direction.

Which is all my way of saying I hope you look up, often, over the next week. Vertical is the theme, and as always, how you choose to explore it is entirely up to you.

The story behind my own initial contribution is a simple one: I was on my way into the hospital after parking the car (see here for the story of our daughter's soccer-goalie adventure) and, as I often do when things are a little unsettled in my world, I pull out the camera and quickly shoot whatever I see. It's my way of freezing the moment and giving myself something to look back at when things calm down.

Funny enough, I did the same thing when our son broke his leg, too, except that time I was a couple of rows over in the parking lot, and I pointed the lens 180 degrees toward the setting sun (see here) and I'll probably keep doing it whenever logic would dictate otherwise.

Sometimes, logic has no right to tell us when we can or cannot take the shot. That's for our gut to decide.

Your turn: Thematic Photographic is our weekly photo sharing and learning activity. To participate, simply post a vertically-themed pic over on your blog - or find one you may have already posted - and then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to pull friends into the fray as well. Even if they're kicking and screaming. For more background on how this thing works, click here. Looking forward to seeing what you can come up with!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

On keeping it together

"The only way to overcome is to hang in."
Dan O'Brien
Sometimes, words speak to me. Who am I kidding? They're constantly speaking to me. Yet sometimes, some words and phrases carry just a little more weight than others - and it's fair to say Mr. O'Brien's words above qualify in spades.

Life doesn't come with a manual, it's almost never fair, it rarely unfolds as planned and it's guaranteed to leave all sorts of marks along the way. But somehow, we keep plugging away. And we never give up.

There are days when I briefly wonder where most of us get the inner strength to keep at it, to stay in the game, to not just quit. Then, just as quickly, I'll stop the overly-analytical silliness. It's our innate nature to fight on. We've been given the privilege on being on this planet, and it's up to us to make the most of it.

It isn't supposed to be easy, but I guess that's what makes the rewards so sweet.

Your turn: How do you hang in?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

On Hemingway, 50 years on

A half-century ago today, Ernest Hemingway ended his life. In doing so he also ended a major chapter in American literary history. Thankfully, words can outlive those who string them together. And thankfully, I was privileged enough to read his words when I was just discovering how much I loved to write.

Interestingly, this quote that has nothing to do with the output side of the equation is what sticks with me today:

"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen."
Ernest Hemingway

On second thought, maybe his advice has everything to do with the writing process. What do you think?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Because warriors never quit

When our daughter, Dahlia, stepped forward to play goalie for her soccer team last night, it was hardly a surprise. She's a gamer, one who looks out for others and never shies away from doing her part. She knew that few players ever volunteer for this typically thankless position, where opposing players rush headlong toward the goalie, who then gets blamed if the ball sneaks past. She knew her team needed her, so she raised her hand when coach asked.

And she dove into the role with gusto, making save after save through much of the first half, ruling her area with a confidence that defied the fact that this is her first-ever year playing soccer. My wife and watched from the sidelines with a curious mixture of pride and fear. Our tough little girl was taking names on the field, but my wife counted the minutes until the shift was over, worried she'd get hurt.

Turns out my wife is prescient. In what seemed like no time at all, an all-hands rush on the goal ended with our daughter lying motionless on the grass, her teammates gathering around her in silence, her coaches running from the sidelines.

I broke parent-spectator protocol and dashed onto the field. Someone had accidentally trampled her hand. The swelling was already visible, and she couldn't move her index finger. After conferring with her coaches, who got ice on her in record time and managed the moment like the kind-hearted masters they are, we decided a trip to the ER was in order, just to make sure.

Long story short, she didn't break anything, but she did hyperextend the finger, which caused the cartilage to displace a bit. To help it heal, she'll be in a 45-degree splint for the next two weeks. Typically Dahlia, she was a trooper, cracking jokes and charming every doctor and nurse as we moved from stage to stage through the hospital. Her doctor heartily laughed as she confirmed her strategy to milk this thing for all it's worth with her two brothers.

This being 2011, I tweeted from my BlackBerry, which auto-updated my Facebook status. My wife texted to friends and family. Later, Dahlia's Facebook page filled with the sweetest messages from her team mates and coaches, everyone hoping she's ok, everyone wanting her to come back and assume her position in goal, everyone missing her already.

No parent ever wants his/her child to experience pain or uncertainty, but virtually the only certainty in parenthood is that these kinds of things will happen from time to time. And we've always taught our kids to find the silver lining in whatever challenges life throws at them. Dog gets sick? Hug him closer and more often to squeeze more love out of whatever time we've got with him. Get hurt on the field? Use it as an opportunity to make good friends even better ones, and to spend an adventurous night in the hospital with your parents. You can't control what happens to you, but you sure can control how you respond to it. We've always known that she gets it. Last night confirmed it that much more.

She's already informed us she intends to get back into goal as soon as her finger heals. And she'll be at practice next week, too, because she loves the game and loves playing it with her team mates.

As I watched our daughter shake off the stress of last night like a duck would shed a bit of water, I realized she has whatever she needs to handle whatever stuff - soccer or other - that life decides to toss her way in the years to come. I want to be more like her when I grow up.

Your turn: Got any thoughts or words for Dahlia?

One more thing: This experience easily qualifies in the "rough" category, which coincidentally happens to be this week's Thematic theme. To share your own, please click here.