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Friday, November 20, 2015

The Touch.

“Between the darkness on the street
And the houses filling up with light
Between the stillness in my heart
And the roar of the approaching night
Somebody's calling after somebody
Somebody turns the corner out of sight
Looking for somebody
Somewhere in the night.”

This time of the year can be confusing; it’s a time when families get together for the happiest of occasions, yet there also many families who are apart—whether by physical or mental distance; what should be the time of joy, can go a number of different ways.

This year, we have a little bit of both, and some in-between. 

One of our daughters is 13 hours (several time zones) away; if it were not for the wonder of technology, we would have no idea how she was enjoying her time so far away from home. We now see her on our computers, iphones, and read her words through text. On the flip side, there are other members of our family, where mental distance has placed a wedge into the relationship. I really wish this was not the case—I will leave it at that. I suspect I am not the only who has this situation to deal with, but then again if I can’t handle my own dealings, I am not able to provide any suggestions.

Last year we broke, and started, a new tradition. We had Thanksgiving at a restaurant in Chicago. At first I didn’t know if it was a good idea, but this year when it came up as an option, I voiced my opinion—“Let’s do it again.” It was so easy—no dishes, no full-day of kitchen activities (not me, my wife)—now it has turned into a much easier day to spend with family. 

I have thought back on what it would have been like as a kid to have had Thanksgiving at a restaurant and I am not sure I would have had the same opinion. My Mom (whose 85th Birthday would have been celebrated today) was very proud to bring this tradition to our table. Now with my wife Susan, I am very happy she is open to a change. For her, she is like my Mom, and very proud of what she brings to her family. It’s okay, we can re-create the entire experience another time.

In order to get this through, I had to convince our youngest daughter that it would be just as enjoyable to go back to the city and enjoy. How did I bribe her? We are going on a carriage ride. It’s something she’s wanted to do for a long time, and it’s time we do it. (My other daughter is not going to do it, she is very allergic to horses—-guess I will not be on the ride and I am just fine with that!)

If I could turn back time, I would love to have the relationship back that has been damaged. Hopefully next Thanksgiving, I will be saying, “Thanks” for having it happen—for this time, it will be in my thoughts.

The photo above was taken on Michigan Avenue yesterday; it’s an advertisement in a bus shelter and when you touch the glass, one of the candles lights. It is very cool and representative of the season. Just like the candles, I am hoping if you reach out and touch, something good may come of it.

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Road Home.

“But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me waiting here
A long long time ago
Don't leave me standing here
Lead me to your door"

As we age, and as far as I know we all do, we look backward, forward and from many different angles of what our life has laid out for us.

It's when you are 18 or so, you often hit the road of life. But there are many different roads to take.

Life on the business road may or may not turn out to be as glamorous you thought it might be; you fly, drive, swim (actually you don't swim) to the place you are visiting on a very temporary basis. For me, it’s usually a Midwestern town that is welcoming, yet still not home. To quote from the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” 

But what about when your old home is no longer your home, and you're not on a business trip or vacation? Change happens. When it does you have to be prepared for the awkwardness of a new bedroom, kitchen, toilet, everything---we recently went through this as we moved from one community to another.  Since moving, I have had to learn the roads to our home. Whereas I thought it would be easy, last weekend not only did I get lost, but had to use GPS to locate my home. Thanks to my iPhone all turned out well.

Recently, I read on Facebook where a friend of mine was doing something I had to go through when my Dad passed away. They sold their home they grew up in. Home for me was the trusted structure I had ever entered. It was safe, it was embedded in my mind as the place I would go to when I knew all was going to be okay. It no longer is part of who I am, and even though I was less than a half-mile away this past weekend, there was no way I was going to venture back. (It would have been too awkward as I no longer felt welcome.)

I know of a few people who continue to live in the home where they were raised. Some purchased it from their parents, and/or some have gone back home to live during a time of transition; whatever it is, I feel a bit of jealousy. Not from where I am today, but of what I miss when I think about the door I would enter and feel welcome. It’s a door I will never walk through again; I am just finding new doors to enter, and know I will always have the key to the past when I want to travel back in time. (But the ones I love, and security of where I grew up, is gone.)

A few weeks ago, one of our daughters walked out our door to a land far far away. She went to Southeast Asia for a “gap year.” If we had gap years when I was her age, I didn’t know about them. But one thing I do know, is she will walk through many doors and hopefully pick up memories. We have made sure, there is a family waiting for her when she returns home in the summer.

The photo above was taken in the middle of a road outside Vail, Colorado; yes I checked to make sure there were no cars or trucks coming down the highway, I just needed to see where the road would take me through my trusty Nikon. Funny, I still don’t know for sure.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Healing Process.

“Here I am again
Back on the corner again
Back where I belong
Where I've always been
Everything the same
It don't ever change
I'm back on the corner again
In the healing game.”

When we get a deep cut or wound, it takes time to heal. Whether it happens at the playground, a relationship gone bad, or the death of a loved one, eventually you have to build yourself back up. It just takes time, tears, and wondering what would happen if we could have changed the course of time?

Recently, I had the good fortune of photographing a family without realizing how much I would heal from what my trusty Nikon captured. It was a very personal shoot, so there is no way I am going to discuss names or provide any insight on the family who honored me with the opportunity to take their photos.

By design, it was a very happy occasion. The celebration of a monumental birthday; okay, I am well past that birthday, and in the end, you realize that there is a lot of life still ahead after a long road travelled. 

It was the other spectrum of the shoot that scared the crap out of me.

As it turns out, there were other family members who were going to have their photos taken; family members had congregated to celebrate, and on the flip side, to heal over the loss of a family member who left way too soon. I was told before the shoot, “Mark, one person would like to hold a photo of their loved one during the photo shoot.” I was more than fine with it, but suddenly this took on a much greater level of importance than your average picture-taking event.

When I arrived, I saw the mother holding the picture; it was a close up (in a frame) of a young man. He was looking at me. I felt him saying, “Don’t blow this one buddy!” I went up and introduced my self to everyone who was there—I was expecting a much smaller number, and when I met the mother, I went up and said, “I am very sorry for you loss…today, we’re going to bring some magic back into your life.” What the hell was I thinking to say that?

The shoot was really enjoyable; I was able to connect with everyone in what could have been a very difficult situation. It was not what I did, it’s what the family allowed me to do; it took a lot of guts and trust to let me into their lives. I am so glad they did.

Move forward a month or so (as in yesterday) and I receive a note from the woman who hired me. I have known her for some time and they are a really nice family. It also happens her husband has a very special name that resonates with my growing up in St. Louis. 

She provided insight on the effect the photo shoot had on the Mom, Dad, and sister who had lost their loved one. I had actually just landed at Midway and was heading to the gate when I read it. It was so thoughtful I started to cry; I was not prepared for what she shared. Her words, and description of how the shell had cracked open and let a grieving family emerge from the darkest nightmare of their lives, made me realize how important the capturing of a moment can be for someone who just needs to re-open the door to life.

Today happens to be the 6th Anniversary of the passing of my Mom. It has gone fast, yet it has dragged on in many respects; but all in all, thinking and visiting her when I am in St. Louis, has allowed me to grow again. I know she is safe and in peace.

The photo above was taken in Colorado this fall; amidst all the fall colors, I stood under beautiful yellow leaves to capture the stunning beauty the scene offered. It was not until I converted it to black and white that I realized how much adding color to something makes life real again.

I love and miss you Mom!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Bucket List.

"I went skydiving
I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."

Whether we realize it or not, we all have things we want to do. Some we admit, some we just dream of doing, but unless you have completely given up, it's not a bad idea to have a personal bucket list.

I must live under a rock, but until I heard of the movie titled, "The Bucket List," I had never heard of the term. (I have climbed out from under the rock.) 

There are many things on my bucket list, unfortunately I have not written them down. But when I hear of something I know I would like to do, I will think, "Got to put that on the bucket list!" For sure, many of mine are the same as others who like to dream; whether it's traveling, growing the ideal garden (not on my list), or taking pictures that are well above the norm, I know before I go to the camera store in the sky, I want accomplish more.

Of no great shock, one of my top wishes was to shoot a professional sport--and be a part of the action. I have photographed many sporting events, but being where the real professionals are shooting (like Sports Illustrated photographers) was something I could only dream about. 


A few months back, I was in a meeting at Edward Jones. They are a financial company based in St. Louis--they also have naming rights to the arena where the Rams play. I have known the person for a number of years and we started talking about the team, and whether or not they would remain in the city. I asked, "Do you think you could possibly help me get a ticket near the field? Of course I would pay for it." It was the best time to ask, I knew it was going to be a long shot, but what the heck.

He said, "Would you like to be on the field?" I was so surprised I said, "Just a good seat near the field will do." He then asked again, I said, "Well yeah!"

Move forward 5 months and I am on the field before the Rams V. Bears game. Not only did I feel out of place, I was nervous to even be down there. But I took a breath and thought, "this is really not that much different than other sporting events I have photographed, just a higher level." Actually, a much higher level. I decided I was not going to show my excitement and just do what I normally do when I am on the field. Walk around and schmooz. (I spoke with other photographers and people on the field.)

What did I have to lose? It's my bucket list.

The agreement with the Rams was I would not be able to shoot on the field during the game; but they found me a seat that was better than I could have dreamed of receiving.
It was in the corner and actually hung over the side of the field with a vantage point that was incredible. One seat. One row. One person. Me.

If you have something you want to it! If you can't think of anything, think harder because I can now say, I am going to work on as many of the "what I want to do's" as possible. One thing, I want to go with my wife to Paris; I know it's been in the news in a tragic manner, but it's a city I dream of seeing once again.

The photo above was taken from my seat at the game. When I saw the receiver heading over to the corner, I took what I had learned from shooting high school football (for real) and watched the play unravel right in front of my eyes. Just like that, my bucket list filled up with a memory I will never forget.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Long. Road. Home.

“In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?”

This past week, I spent approximately 5,800 minutes with 17 guys who, in many cases, I had not seen in 35 years. Yes it’s a lot of numbers to absorb, but when put together, it was an experience that will last a lifetime. (Well that is until we meet up again—hopefully sooner rather than later.)

The reason? It was a fraternity reunion where everyone of us came together in search of bringing “back to life,” even if for a short period of time, the wonders of living at 901 Maryland Drive while attending the University of Missouri in the late 70’s. 

No this is not the “Wonder Years” from TV,  we’re talking about probably the most important years of our lives where we assumed—being on our own—would allow us to take our first steps toward adulthood. What we didn’t realize all those years ago, was that we were about to form a new family as “brothers” living together and forming bonds that were unbreakable. (At least after the pledging was completed!)

It would have seemed logical to meet up at Mizzou or a city within driving distance of the University. I mean, after all, most everyone there lives minutes, if not a few hours, from one another. But that was not the case, we were invited by one of our brothers who lives in Colorado. No offense to the “Show-Me-State,” but the “Centennial State” provided a better backdrop for an incredible gathering of friends—where every one of us brought memories to share.

Whereas I would be breaking every code if I discussed what was said during the long weekend, I can say that we have all been through times that showed we have the grit and desire to live life at its fullest—no matter what is dished up. We also have some very smart guys who are doctors, lawyers, dentists, those who are financial-focused, an engineer, businessmen, a pilot and more. (I didn’t talk too much about what I do—I am sure they have a really high regard for someone in advertising. NOT.)

There were many great moments on the trip, I went bike riding (all downhill for 17 miles) ate wonderful food, and spent several hours with old friends hiking up a mountain side. Did I think I could do it? I was concerned. But I made it! (Yes, I had my trusty Nikon with me!)

The photo above was taken one night when two of our brothers took out their guitars, and took us on a journey back in time singing songs of the era.

From the moment I arrived in Colorado, until the time we all said “Good-bye,” I knew I was never going to forget these 96 hours where seventeen guys ventured many miles to come together. I am really hoping we have another reunion sooner rather than later—we are a band of brothers, and we need to remember, no matter what is in our way, we stand together.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Small steps. Giant leaps.

"Reach out and touch
Somebodys hand
Make this world a better place
If you can
Reach out and touch
Somebodys hand
Make this world a better place
If you can."

It's not every day you can go to work, walk past the usual revolving door you enter, and head around the corner to a bus waiting to take you to a "land far away from your normal day." That was what happened to myself and more than 20 of my business friends/associates on Wednesday. I had no idea what to expect, yet it was so much more than I expected.

For the past 2 years, I have either been out of town, or unavailable to participate in our annual "Rebuilding Together"---a community-based program our company participates in each year. This year, no excuses---I was going. All I had heard about this day was, "This is not going to be your typical day, and you really will be working." Really? Like I don't do that every day at the office...come on---foul!!! I didn't realize what real work was until today, two days later, as I am doing my best not to bend in any unusual positions. I am that sore.

We arrived at Envision on the South side of Chicago around 9 AM--- breakfast was being served---doughnuts. I don't like doughnuts so this was going to be an interesting start to what would be a long day---luckily they had muffins, something even worse for my ever-expanding arteries. Still not sure what I was about to encounter, I sat there and listened to one of my counterparts bring the group to full laughter. This guy is seriously funny and he did not let us down. Then we received the "thank you speech" from the directors of the project and we were assigned stations. Three of us were assigned "mulching duty." How hard can that be? I have been working out after all. Let's do it!


After what I assumed to be at least an hour at shoveling and transporting mulch,  I looked at my watch and was sure it was broken. It was informing me, "Dude, you have been doing this 12 minutes, come on you need to get to work." I was already sweating and I could feel my "under-developed muscles" aching in my lower back. I was not alone in feeling pain, as I walked by a "former picnic table" which was now a pile of wood; two of my counterparts were painting (wearing long jeans) and you could tell, for them this was going to be just as long and much hotter. 

After an hour we started to see the fruits of our labor start to take hold; mulch started to cover barren spots, planters were being put back together, weaving was occurring in the building, and much more. Community members started to peak their heads out the door wondering what was going on...and many were so excited to help us. (We did have a small incident as one of the men got stung by a bee---it was not a pretty sight, but I assumed he was okay as he returned to shovel more mulch.)

Finally the word began to spread, lunch was being served. We dropped everything and move to the side of the building. Now I might not like doughnuts, but I do like pizza---and a patch of ground to sit. (Very hard to get up once the half-hour break was complete.) Again I looked at my "broken" watch---how could 30 minutes go by so fast...why can't the same happen when we are working? In the back of my mind I heard, "Shut up and get back to work." 

At last we finished, what had been many areas in need of serious repair had over a short period of time transformed into a thing of beauty. Inside, partitions were built to add privacy--- they looked like giant weaves---carpentry completed, tires painted bright colors for future use as planters and smiles on our faces.

The photo above was taken at the event; two of my counterparts, and one of the directors of the project, are putting the final touches on a privacy screen. A long day was in the process of ending, and together, as a team, we helped make a difference---whether large or small, we "reached out and touched and together did make this a better place." That's what it's all about.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The 'Hood.

"I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
I'd sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He'd tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown."

Throughout our lives, chances are we will move from one location to another. Some will move more than others, and there are some who will live in the same house for their entire life. I have moved several times, but nothing like my wife has experienced.

For the majority of my youth, Chesterfield, Missouri was my turf…literally. When you grew up in the St. Louis area, you really didn't venture too far away from your home base. Sure we would go to the mall and places within a few miles from home, but nothing like we experience in Chicago where kids will take the train to the city, go to the beach or some other destination, and then head back to the community where you live. 

Home was always a safe place. We knew as long as we were able to pull into the driveway,  there would always be someone to greet us. However, when you move, or you leave the nest, a part of you stays. Even though I will likely never go back to my childhood home, I am funny about that, it's likely I will read about it in "Snap. Shot." It seems so much easier and less intrusive that way. Weird? Of course, that's me.

Today we live in a time when connecting with those who you grew up with is a simple click of a few keys. It's easy to catch up on Facebook or other social media. Many people I am in touch with I have not seen in a while…rather, decades.

In September, a number of my fraternity brothers will be reuniting in Colorado. Reunions are interesting; certainly since many of us lived in the same house for 2 to 4 years, we know (or at least think we remember) the guys who went from strangers to brothers. But how have they changed in 30-something years? In my mind they are likely the same as they were when we shook hands and said, "Have a good life" all those years ago. There really was no way to remain in touch unless we lived in the same city or were wealthy enough to spend a lot of money on "long distance" phone calls. Again, this should be interesting.

Going back to the 'hood is a struggle; I know it will always bring back memories—some good, some not as good—but in the end, bringing the memories of old back to the forefront, is always worth it. I just need to prepare for it.

The photo above was taken recently at the cemetery where many of my family members now reside; my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle (as well as a fraternity brother) all call this neighborhood home. There is one thing I do know, every time I am scheduled to venture back to my home town—this is one "hood" I will always put on the "to visit" list.

Thanks for stopping by.