Monday, March 30, 2015

Thematic Photographic 331 - Please be seated

Waiting for Godot
London, ON
March 2015
This week's Thematic theme, please be seated, is a rather personal one because I tend to spend more time than I should sitting on chairs. Call it a writer's occupational hazard.

Thankfully I don't have to spend much time in chairs like the one you see here. It was parent-teacher interview night at our kids' school, and as I waited for the final appointment of the night, I found myself facing this rather forlorn-looking scene. It struck me as dimensionally perfect, so plain yet so richly full of detail about what it felt like to be Right There.

Indeed, at various times in our lives we've all been seated out in the hall on an uncomfortable chair, institutional linoleum at our feet, institutional concrete block around us, and institutional fluorescent lights and pock-marked drop-ceilings above us. Within that context, this may be one of the most relatable pics I've shared in a while.

At least that's what I hope the principal was thinking when she busted me.

Your turn: Take a photo that evokes, suggests or merely breathes the name of this week's please be seated theme. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Already got something online? Share that, too! Head here for more background on Thematic. Visit other participants and come back through the week - we encourage serial sharing. And friends. Because photography is more fun when it's shared.

On mulling over your impact on others

"A life isn't significant except for its impact on other lives."
Jackie Robinson
Which begs the inevitable question: What's your impact on the lives of others?


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The cat who cast a long shadow

10 years ago today, we put our cat down. In a world where millions live in fear and whatever the opposite of freedom is, where children grow up hungry and without hope of breaking the cycle, where good people die young and those who take advantage of others so often seem to escape justice, the life of a cat seems ridiculously trivial indeed. And in virtually all respects, it is.

But he was our cat, and he was a part of our lives for a dozen years. And small memories, however trivial they may seem at first - or even second - glance, still matter in the lives of those who retain them.

We had had Shadow since he was a tiny little thing, and after a late-night escape attempt outside the pound from which we had just adopted him, some tenuous nights spent hiding under the covers hoping he wouldn't claw us in the dark, and a disturbing sequence of broken glass, chewed-up flowers and destroyed furniture, he settled into quite the contented life with us.

He was there when we brought our first munchkin home from the hospital, when we pulled up stakes and moved to London in the dead of winter, when we settled into our new home here and welcomed two more little people into the family. As he imprinted himself on the top of our couch, he also imprinted himself on us.

He taught our kids what it was like to treat others with care, and how to communicate non-verbally. Through him, they learned empathy, patience and gentleness. When he got sick, they learned how precious life is, and ultimately what loss feels like. He was their first real pet, and they continue to carry those early lessons as they continue their own journeys into adulthood.

So, yes, he was a silly cat who wrecked the house, ruined our sleep and drained our wallet. But a decade after we said goodbye, his rather long shadow continues to touch us. And as I look at our kids who were lucky enough to have their "Best Cat" in the house for as long as they did, I can't help but think that they're better people because of him.

On balance, it ended up being a reasonable tradeoff.

Related links:

Friday, March 27, 2015

She's a dirty girl

Poor Henrietta has had a tough winter. From a mangled tire to hard-packed snow in the wheel wells and enough -30C cold-cranked starts in the pre-dawn murk, I'm guessing my little wagon is just as happy to see spring as I am.

Considering the state of her rear hatch, I'm guessing a careful washing might be in order. I love Canada and all, but ‎the on-road grime makes me wish we lived in a less messy part of the world.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thematic Photographic 330 - Get Dirty

Free parking
London, ON
February 2015
The world is a dirty place. Maybe it's because we're in that early-spring netherworld where the snow hasn't quite finished melting and the city cleaning crews haven't had a chance to sweep away the grit and grime of the receding winter.

Until they do, it's everywhere, and as much as we'd like to toss the boots back into storage in favor of sneakers, the monster slush-puddles and endless gunkiness make dressing for better weather a bit of a risk. For now, anyway.

Your turn: Take a pic that ‎evokes, supports or merely suggests this week's theme, Get Dirty. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Already posted something online or in your archives? Share it, too! Visit other participants to raise the fun quotient and feel free to post more contributions through the week. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Most important of all, have fun with it!

On inspiration - and not just sitting around waiting for it

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
Jack London

As the new work week gets underway, how will you pursue your own source of inspiration?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

On pushing past your boundaries

"You must do the things you think you cannot do."
Eleanor Roosevelt
Don't let me stop you. Go. Do.

And when you do, what will one of those things be?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Half a roof over my head

‎As my son and I were walking back to the car after running some errands at the local mall, we happened to walk past the empty shell of a former anchor store. I stared at the now-dusty exterior of the building and couldn't help but realize how forlorn it looked, and how much it had been allowed to deteriorate since this place last closed it's doors just over a year ago.

The store that was once a magnet, a destination for thousands of people from the entire region, was now a derelict piece of 80s-era brown-brick architecture, with no sign of recovery in sight.

As we stood on the sidewalk in front of the now-shuttered front doors, taking in the sad spectacle of suburban obsolescence, my son said he hoped something would soon fill the quiet space and give it the kind of life it once had.

Although he's just as cynical as I am when it comes to the uber-commercial nature of modern retail fixtures like big box stores and shopping malls, it struck me as an incredibly profound statement from a very sensitive 14-year-old.‎ He understood how stores like the one that was once here contribute to the fabric of the communities they serve, and what we lose when they disappear. It's more than mere picetags and shopping bags.

Almost as soon as he finished the thought, we both looked up at the overhang that once protected shoppers from the elements as they waited to be picked up out front.‎ The still-vibrant yellow against the brilliant blue sky suggested, perhaps, a brighter future for this place than its dreary present might suggest.

Either way, my son will be watching.

On keeping time

"I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours."
Bernard Berenson

Some folks figure it out in retrospect. Others never do. It needn't be so complex.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A draining experience

Beneath the (non)waves
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
Thematic. Bodies of water. Here.
This is a picture of a pool drain. I had to perch myself at the very edge of the deck, then point my camera straight down. Thankfully the weather was meh, so the pool was empty and only a few card players were nearby. I'm rather sorry I didn't take a picture of them as they alternated between arguing over the rules of the game and trying to hide their curiosity as they cast bewildered stares in my general direction.

It was kind of funny to watch them, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't milk the moment for all it was worth.

Your turn: ‎Do you ever shoot with an audience?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Thematic Photographic 329 - Bodies of water

Lucky 7
Pompano Beach, FL
December 2014
It's that time once again, that special time on Monday - 7:00 p.m. Eastern - When we announce the week's new photo theme. This time out, it is: Bodies of water.

I was looking through my photo archives and in between kicking myself for dragging my feet processing the pictures from our recent vacation - bad Carmi! - I realized I had returned home with lots of scenes from bodies of water. Beaches, swimming pools, brackish streams and even bathtubs:

My camera captured it all. Well, most of it. I hope yours does, too.

Your turn: Take a picture that suggests, supports or otherwise evokes this week's theme, bodies of water. Post it to your blog or website and then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. If you've already got something shareable online, feel free to toss it into the mix, as well‎. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy, and don't hesitate to share additional pics through the week. For more background on how Thematic Photographic works, head here. Otherwise, I'll just back away and let you start shooting and sharing. Have fun!

Do not shoot the Customs officer

Always know where you are
Port Huron, MI
December 2014
For more Thematic road tripping, head here
New theme goes live tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern
This is what 6:38 a.m. looks like when you're about to cross the Canada-U.S. border on the way to a much warmer place. When everyone was more or less parked in place while the Customs officers finished up their strategic games of Solitaire, ‎I thought a quick pixel-grab wouldn't be terribly out of line.

I know, I know, I'm now the poster child for the distracted driving generation. Let the debate begin: And let the record show we hadn't budged for 10 minutes. There, I feel better.

All other issues aside, I've fallen into the habit of taking what I like to call placeholder pictures, or photos that aren't necessarily "of" anything in particular, but ones that pinpoint a certain time and place in our day-to-day lives, perhaps milestone moments that we don't otherwise want to forget. They aren't necessarily great compositions, but they fulfill an important storytelling role in the life of my family.

Looking back at them brings me right back to those moments, and at this moment we were sitting quietly in the car and wondering how many of the ‎2,269 kilometres ahead of us we'd have to drive before we could kick off our boots and woolies and swap them for shorts and sandals. The kids were happily bantering in the back, and I was thankful to be in this delightful cocoon of family, a place where life, for a snapshot moment, was as perfect as I'd ever imagined.

Amazing what one otherwise unremarkable picture can do. Do you take placeholder photos? Do tell...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Desperately seeking...a car wash

Dirty girl
London, ON
March 2015
Thematic. Hit the road. Here.
Impending spring is a lovely time of year. Except for the grime that seems to coat everything that isn't hermetically sealed.

I think Henrietta needs a bit of a cleaning. Anyone up for a car wash?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

On not letting Alzheimer's have the final word

"If you don't turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else's story."
Terry Pratchett
Sir Terry certainly told his own life's story with eloquence and grace. May we all have the will and the ability to follow in his footsteps.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Eight dog years

Love me
London, ON
February 2015

We all know that time flies when you're having fun. But as a dog owner, I can also confirm that time also flies when you're cleaning up a kitchen floor strewn with garbage, walking seemingly endlessly through the neighborhood when the temperature is cold enough to flash-freeze small birds in flight, or waking up to the sound of a little four-legged being quietly throwing up at your feet.

Ah yes, dog ownership is a trip. And today we mark eight years of it. On this day in 2007, we brought Frasier home. He was a rescue from a home where his "normal" was a too-small cage and not much else, and after spending the first months of his life mostly alone and afraid, he very quickly became one of us.

This isn't a fairy tale, mind you. He was, is and presumably always will be less than convenient. Between the garbage, the weather and the horking up, he is as labour-intensive as he sounds. He's diabetic, too, so insulin shots and eternal worry are now part of our family vocabulary. And speaking of sounds, he is no stranger to them. Loud is his middle name. I know it's a miniature schnauzer thing, but still.

I was once walking Frasier with a member of our extended family who shall remain nameless. As usual, Frasier was wandering like a bad drunk from side to side, following his nose wherever his DNA deemed worthy. Pulling on the leash didn't seem to do much good, and I lost count of how many times I had to physically move him in the direction I wanted him to go.

Of course, distant-family-member-guy's dog was infinitely better behaved. And he proceeded to lecture me on all the things I was doing wrong in training - or, I'm guessing, not training - our dog.  He then explained why a dog from a breeder is better than a dog like Frasier, "Where you really don't know what you're getting."

I bit my tongue at that one. Hard. I think it even bled a little. Didn't say anything to him as we continued our walk and returned to the house. Because I think we have very different definitions of what "better" is.

We may not have known what we were getting when we brought this little troublemaker home. We may have been taking something of a risk given what he had been through. He sure didn't end up as the perfectly trained, breeder-supplied, by-the-checkmark ideal that seems to occupy centre stage in the Christmas card scenes of so many families.

But he's ours. With a kind heart that defies description. And a way of connecting with us no matter what we're going through. So we'll take him, warts and all. After all, he decided long ago that we were his, and I'm not about to disagree with him.

Thank you for eight wonderful years, you furry ball of insanity. May we all be lucky enough to have many more together.

Related links:
Frasier's 1st day
Frasier's 2nd day
Frasier's posts: Act of Dog 
Dahlia's Instagram pic today

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Looking at life through an open sunroof

‎If it were up to me, I wouldn't own a car. I don't much enjoy driving. Nor do I enjoy paying for a car, caring for it, worrying about it, or otherwise having it on my mind. I also feel a whole lotta guilt for burning fossilized dinosaur juice that pollutes the atmosphere and sullies the planet. I rather despise that feeling of perpetual laziness that goes along with letting an internal combustion engine do all the heavy lifting for me. All things considered, I'd much rather take my bike wherever I need to go.

But the realities of life in a northern town, where I have a family to cart around, a career to build and a life to lead, mean I'm somewhat stuck with the four-wheeled thing. Cities are built and lives are laid out in such a way that going carless would be an even bigger pain than owning one.

My schedule doesn't afford me the luxury of time to get my kids where they need to go, or for me to zip quickly between home, office, studio and a million points in between and beyond. Even if it did, winter has a nasty way of interrupting even the best laid urban-commuter-cyclist's plans. And so I reluctantly find myself ‎getting into my little machine every morning and turning the key.

With all the reasons to hate driving, I find myself looking for small touchstones in the experience‎ that make it, if not satisfying, at least tolerable. Enter the sunroof.

My car has one. Every car I ever own must have one. Because nothing feels quite as soothing as sliding it open before setting off on a journey. Because feeling the open sky just above my head is a small reward when I absolutely have to drive somewhere.‎ Because even when it's too cold outside to allow open-air driving, the extra light it lets in makes me feel a little happier wherever I happen to be headed. Because we all deserve small luxuries that, despite their outwardly trivial nature, mean the world to us within our own day-to-day existence.

And on this brilliantly sunny afternoon, the temperature had gone above zero for the first time in months. So I looked at our son in the passenger seat and cracked a half-smile as I suggested opening it for the first time this season. He half-smiled back and me and before either of us could say a word my finger was reaching toward the switch.

I remember the animated conversation, the tone of that shared moment as we slowly backed out of the driveway, far more than I do the actual sensation of the roof sliding open. We felt delightfully happy at the sudden and welcome release from winter's grip. And as much as I still don't much enjoy the whole driving thing, a shared moment of renewed joy with my little man is more than enough to make me wish for countless more drives just like it. With him. Because an open sky is always best experienced with someone special.

Your turn:‎ Do you have a small luxury that makes you crack a half-smile? Or even a whole one?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Looking back at a harrowing drive home

Some road trips are best forgotten. Yet for some odd reason I keep taking pictures of them. Maybe blizzards bring me comfort. Perhaps there's something soul-soothing about picking your way home on a night like tonight, knowing the warmth that awaits your arrival.

Like I said, odd. But I'll take it with snow or without.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Thematic Photographic 328 - Hit the road

Life beckons
London, ON
March 2015
A funny thing happened when I stepped outside on Saturday afternoon. The temperature had warmed up - to above freezing for the first time in what seemed like eons - and the road was strangely free of snow and ice. Neighbors to the left and right of our house had emerged into this strange streetscape, rubbing their eyes in the bright sunshine, almost as if they were groundhogs awaking from a long hibernation.

I quietly paced the cul-de-sac in front of the house, and for what seemed like a long while debated with myself the merits of hauling my bicycle out of the basement, prepping it and taking it for a shakedown ride through the 'hood. It sure seemed warm enough, and the nearly bare pavement beneath my feet beckoned for more. The road was calling.

As it was, the rest of the neighborhood road network turned out to be a soggy, icy, pothole-filled mess. So with visions of trashing my rims and ending up in a dirty snowbank, I went back into the house and got back into daddy-weekend-errand mode. The ride will have to wait, but not for too much longer.

Your turn: It's hit the road week, and I'd like to use this new Thematic Theme to explore anything and everything associated with the road. They take us near and far, connect us, and call us. In the process, they make us feel something, too, and I'm hoping everyone's photos this week evoke that sentiment. Are you in? If so, grab a shot of something that suggests "road", and share it on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Already posted something earlier? Share that, too: We love sharing, after all. Visit other participants to spread the fun, and be sure to pop back through the week to see what everyone else is up to. Here's more info on how Thematic works. Thanks, and enjoy!

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

Start me up
London, ON
March 2015
Thematic. Drink. Here.
Welcome to my office, the place where words get spun and cool things are created. As far as offices go, it's a pretty neat, welcoming place. And when I'm sitting in front of all of that technology - seriously, I have way too much LCD in my life - I can't help but think that I'm in the right place, in a spot that makes me feel both comfortable and very much alive.

Of course, technology can only get you so far, so a mug of steeped tea is usually called for. And unlike Star Trek: TNG's Captain Picard, who simply had to call for it out of a replicator, I actually have to boil the kettle, stick the infuser in, and wait for the convective magic to happen.

Our 21st century primitive tea-making technology aside, I think I prefer to make it myself. Some things just feel better when you don't have to rely on some unseen circuitry. Not everything needs an app, and I think my tea mug may very well be the last holdout.

Your turn: What's the appeal of a warm mug of coffee/tea/whatever?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

On the treasure that is today

"Today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day."
Francis Gray
My wife shared this with me via email this week, smack in the middle of the day when I really needed it. She's amazing that way: Always knowing what I need, and when.

Wherever you are, I hope you've got someone in your corner, too, who manages to find moments to remind you how precious time is.

Your turn: What do you have to look forward to on this day?

Friday, March 06, 2015

Start the day with juice

Life is a serious business, but that doesn't mean there isn't a little room at the margins to have a little fun.

This photo is Exhibit A. I was attending a presentation at a London hotel by Jean-Pierre Blais, the chair of the CRTC, Canada's broadcast regulator. I'd been writing and speaking about the man for years, so it was quite the thing for me to finally be able to meet him. I'm geeky like that.

Now, to most people, telecom regulation is as exciting as watching paint dry. And for the most part, I can't disagree with them. But there's something about this space that pulls me in and can't let go. For this supposedly most sober, bureaucratic and often impossibly complex topic of all is also a crucial factor in how ‎we connect with each other and how we lead our lives.

And making the Byzantine world of telecom regulation easy for everyone to understand is kinda my thing. So here I was super-early, ready to listen to M. Blais's first of a planned series of significant policy announcements, surrounded by some of the heaviest hitters in regional broadcast media. Reporters from national newsrooms had made the trip in to observe the spectacle, and the stage was set for a major kind of day.

So I thought a juice glass picture would be just the ticket for putting it all in perspective. Because as groundbreaking as the day turned out to be - I was, ah, rather riled up by the eventual message, and ended up somewhat forcefully disagreeing with M. Blais on his vision for local broadcasting - I didn't want to forget the simple pleasures of being in an amazing place surrounded by brilliant people whose decisions could potentially affect us all.

Before I spun my brain up and joined the media fray, I wanted to enjoy the moment with a few captured pixels. Not a bad way to keep my head on straight.

Your turn: Do you look for small ways to ground yourself during otherwise stressful times? How so?

Monday, March 02, 2015

Thematic Photographic 327 - Drink

This is how we start the day
London, ON
February 2015

I've been staring into mugs a lot lately, a necessary byproduct of a ridiculously cold and snowy winter. There's something comforting about taking the time to make a mug of something that radiates so much warmth and tone, and then simply hold it quietly as a counter to whatever's blowing up just outside the door or window. It works every time.

So it got me thinking: This would make a great topic for Thematic. Which brings us to...

Your turn: Thematic celebrates the humble drink for the next week. Whatever you're drinking - coffee, tea, juice, water, or something a little stronger - I hope you'll shoot it on your blog or website, then share it here. If you've already posted something, that'll work, too. Leave a comment letting everyone know where to find it, and be sure to visit other participants. Return as often as you wish, as Thematic is all about shooting, sharing and enjoying the photographic art. For more info on how it all works, head here. Otherwise, grab your camera and go for it.

Purple and proud

The color of nature
London, ON
October 2014
Photo by Dahlia Levy
It's been a long, tough winter here in the Great White North, and as much as Canadians seem to revel in beating back the worst of it, I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to more moderate weather.

One of the things I miss most when the snow falls is the abundance of color that surrounds us for the rest of the year. I'm aware that the typically winter shades of white, grey and brown-ish are all colors, as well, but they're nowhere near as kind to the soul as scenes like this.

I'm looking forward to more purples like this. And I'm looking forward to more walks with my kids so they can capture more moments like this one through the lens.

Your turn: Your favorite color is...? Why?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Do these look like baby seals?

‎I'm not entirely sure what baby seals look like, but I'm somehow reminded of tiny little animal beings when I look at this shot.

I think I may need to find another hobby, because this one is getting too weird.