Saturday, November 04, 2017

Puppy still life

Calli at rest, temporarily
London, ON
August 2017
Find this photo on Instagram
It's been a while since I posted anything here. As you've probably noticed, the planet's been a chaotic, churning, unpredictable place. For reasons I'm still trying to figure out - likely due to the chaotic, churning, unpredictable planet - I've backed away from the writing thing, and that's starting to gnaw at me more than a little.

Among other things, my going on creative pause has also kept this little being from showing herself to the world. I've been taking lots of pictures and video of her, and alongside my wife and kids working like mad to shape her from a psychotic puppy into a somewhat more well-behaved member of our family. Long story short, it isn't going well, but this is a marathon and not a sprint.

But as you can see here, Calli is adjusting well to life as a Levy. Her nuttiness notwithstanding, we love her to the moon and back, and we're pretty sure the feeling is mutual. And when the planet threatens to spin out of control, I find myself spending more time around her than usual. Because we all know dogs can repair the world. And, by extension, us.

Your turn: What - or who - brings you comfort?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Brushed by time

Long exposure fun by the river
London, ON
September 2017
Photo originally shared on Instagram

It isn't often that I have free time to just walk around and do a whole lot of nothing, so when the opportunity presented itself one sunny morning last week, I grabbed it.

Here in the so-called "other" London, we've got a river that, like our city's namesake, is also called the Thames. For reasons I can't explain, it attracts me like a magnet whenever I'm nearby. I figure if I have a camera in my hand, I'll probably find some inspiration by the water.

The light was shadowy and patchy, but a big, slanted tree made a nice improvised tripod as I experimented with long exposures of the rushing water. Sometimes, nature finds ways to turn spontaneous wanderings into memorable moments. Note to self: Return here. Soon.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

She completes another journey around the sun

The best half
London, ON
April 2017
Please ignore the doofus on the right and instead focus on the lovely individual next to him. She's celebrating a rather important birthday today, and while it's not my place to share her age here (or anywhere), I'll let it slip that it's more significant than usual. If you'd like to wish her a happy without having to go through me, pop over to her Facebook page.

I've spent most of my life with her, the majority of that time wondering how she puts up with me, why she puts up with me, and how I came to deserve her in the first place. I can't remember what life was like before I met her, nor do I ever wish to. She makes every day memorable simply by being in it. I can sit in a room with her in utter silence for hours on end, yet still feel delightfully connected for every moment.

Whether we realize it or not, time is an incredibly precious, irreplaceable commodity. That she has chosen to spend the time she has with me is something I'll never take for granted, today, tomorrow, and however many other days I get beyond then. Because every day is worthy of celebration when you get to spend it with your best friend.

Happy birthday, sweets.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

20 years of Dahlia

The princess and her pup
London, ON
September 2017
Photo originally posted to Instagram

Two decades ago today, the young lady in the photo above made her way into the world, a tiny, perfect, pink-bundled munchkin who instantly grabbed onto our hearts and hasn't let go since. As anyone who's crossed her path in the interim already knows, she's grown into an accomplished, kind, creative and incredibly funny human being.

She was my wife's early birthday gift, and since then they've been day-apart birthday buddies - though they hardly need a calendar to reinforce just how close they are. I have no words to describe how proud she makes us, and how lucky we are that she's turned out as remarkably as she has.

Every child is a blessing, of course, but this child is in a league of her own. Happy 20th birthday, Peanut. We know you'll never stop making everything - and everyone - around you better through simply having crossed your path.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

After the game ends

Perfect emptiness
London, ON
August 2017
Photo originally shared via Instagram
 

I'm a big fan of the Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams. Despite my less-than-stellar Little League Baseball experiences - I became a better buttercup-picker in left field than anything else - baseball has remained one of my favorite things to watch or to simply be around.

Why? Maybe it reminds me of a simpler time. Maybe the rules of the game form a nice analog for how a life well-lived should be lived. Maybe we all just need a little time-out from the planet every once in a while, and a storied game played on a storied field could be just the ticket.

Whatever the reason, I found myself drawn to this field in south London. It was after the game was over, after the players had gathered up their equipment and cleared out of the dugouts, after the spectators - largely friends and family - had folded up their chairs and trudged off to the dirt paths on their way to the gravel-covered parking lot, trailing dust all the way.

The silence of the field on one side of me contrasted with the ebbing burble of the departing crowd on the other. A picture seemed in order.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monochrome? Not quite.

Towering
London, ON
August 2017
Photo originally shared via Instagram

These towers are everywhere, and as ugly as they may seem to some, they're an essential component of modern, mobile life. You may say you don't want one of these things in your backyard, but you'll probably also curse the sky when you lose your bars on your phone. NIMBY much?

What originally started out as an inadvertent monochrome photo shot quickly on the walk back to the car became, on closer inspection, something more Pleasantville-like than I originally intended. Photography still has the potential to surprise, which is why I keep at it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A puppy, a carpet, and some insanity, too

The view from the stairs
London, ON
Photo originally shared via Instagram
 

You have to be borderline-insane to bring a puppy into your family. You lose sleep. Furniture and objects that matter to you are summarily destroyed. You need extra makeup to cover up the inadvertent (or are they deliberate?) bite and scratch marks. You live in fear of her getting into something that could hurt her. Or you.

Yet when you watch and listen to her in the very middle of what once was a much quieter, calmer, predictable home, you realize the little hell-raiser you see here is just what we needed.

I may not be happy when you pee on the floor, Calli Finn, but I can't imagine our family without your feisty self in it.

Remembrance stones

In the end, we're more similar than not
Duvernay, QC
August 2017
Photo originally shared via Instagram

I don't often make it here, because if we're being brutally honest I've never believed a grave or similarly physical monument is the sole marker of an individual, or the only means by which we should remember him or her.

My father and mother-in-law are buried here, literally in adjoining rows. I'd hate to think the only time their memory touches me is every year or so when I take the long-ish drive to visit their respective resting places. Their memory, and the lessons I hopefully learned from them, aren't tied to this or any place. And as the relentless passage of time puts their passing further in the rear-view mirror, I often find myself thinking of them wherever I happen to be.

I'll still come to this place, but it's merely one touchstone, not the only one.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Curved glass under a partly cloudy sky

Look up
Toronto, ON
July 2017
Photo originally posted to Instagram
Some of my most satisfying moments with a camera in my hand tend to happen when I'm seriously pressed for time. When I'm moving between one place and another, and don't have the luxury of time to stop what I'm doing and slowly ponder the scene. Instead, I walk and shoot, often getting only one shot of a particular scene before I move quickly to the next one.

I find it exhilarating. Just as it is when I'm writing on deadline, the pressure of time forces your brain into another gear. Everything non-essential gets tossed, and you're forced to live explicitly in that moment, to the exclusion of all else.

Sometimes you get good stuff, and sometimes you don't. But you remember what shooting-and-running felt like, how satisfying and soul-nurturing that process can be, and you hope it won't be long before you're doing it again. It isn't always about the end result, after all.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Not-so-small dog in a big world

She surveys her domain
London, ON
August 2017
Photo originally posted to Instagram
We had a bit of an eye-opening moment at puppy training this week. Calli is, by far, the smallest dog of the group. The next-smallest dog is Max. Last week he was still visibly larger than she was, but this week, she caught up. Just like that.

In a seeming blink, she's stretching out, getting taller, bulking up. She's still no bruiser, and will always easily fit into the shadows of the big dogs in the hood. But in the context of the guinea-pig-sized schnauzer pup we brought home just over 6 weeks ago, suddenly she's huge.

So I find myself trying to slow down time a bit. I try to shoot videos and photos that somehow illustrate her size, that will serve as markers, of sorts, when she's full-grown, of a time when she was still a munchkin.

I don't think this is even possible to pull off, but it's worth a shot. Time, after all, moves too quickly no matter who's on the other side of the lens. It can't hurt to try to hold onto those fleeting moments for a little while longer.

Your turn: How do you freeze time?

Corridor at Union Station

Under the great glass ceiling
Toronto, ON
July 2017

Photo originally posted on Instagram
The Scene: Toronto's Union Station. We're walking through the pedestrian corridor that connects this massive transit hub with the CN Tower and Rogers Centre stadium to the west. We've just finished watching one of the most intense baseball games in Blue Jays history - they erased a 10-4 deficit i ninth inning and beat the Los Angeles Angels 11-10 with a walk-off grand slam - and everyone is jubilant. As much as we need to find the car and head home, no one really wants this moment to end.

We turn the corner into the long, glass-enclosed corridor that overlooks Front Street. I can't stop staring at the curved ceiling, which is nothing new for me. I stop at the top of the stairs while my family continues down - also nothing new for me, as I'm always dawdling. I shoot fast before catching up to them, another furtively-grabbed moment in pixels from a day we won't soon forget.

Your turn: How do you use your camera to freeze time?

Saturday, August 05, 2017

4 years later...

As some of you may know, I survived a stroke four years ago tonight (more about it here.) It happened after I accidentally tore an artery in my neck by moving my head the wrong way during a bike ride.

Thankfully I came out the other side rather intact. My soul was still there. and I remained able to do the things I had always done. Still, this rather insane experience has had a profound impact on my life's path, and I've learned a few things along the way.

As I mark another milestone in this journey, I thought it might be worthwhile to jot down a few of those learnings and observations and share them here:
  1. I don't live with endless regret. I don't kick myself for taking a ride that day. I don't kick myself for the pre-u-turn head toss that touched everything off. There was no way to know this could happen, and beating myself up for putting myself on the path that led to the event doesn't do anyone any good. It's done. Move on.
  2. I do live with endless worry. To this day, I feel like I have a Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. Every minute of every day, I question whether that little twinge I just felt is everyday fatigue that we all experience on occasion or the onset of another major event. I fear whether a forgotten factoid is a sign of some kind of stroke-related cognitive impairment. I've been told I sailed through with my Carmi-ness intact, but there's so much we don't know about how the brain works, so I still wonder and worry. I often feel a low level of baseline dizziness - like I've had a couple of sips of rum on an empty stomach - almost as a near-constant reminder of what happened to me. Thankfully that goes away when I'm on the bike, and the faster I go, the better I feel (weird how that works) Every once in a while I'll come across an article that quotes scary stats about stroke recurrence, and I get even more freaked about. But you can't hide under the covers. So I don't.
  3. I can see it in everyone else's eyes. I get asked if I'm OK a lot. By my family. By friends. By colleagues. People I haven't seen in a while often hold my gaze just a little longer than is comfortable. They ask how I'm feeling, then ask again to be extra-sure. No one ever believes me when I say that I feel fine. I get that. There's almost an expectation of vulnerability, and it's clear that everyone will be looking at me through that lens for the rest of my life. I get that, too.
  4. I'm still afraid to ride the bike. I took my first ride fairly soon after I recovered, but I still carry some residual fear of messing myself up again. I installed a handy rear-view mirror on my bar-ends, and now wonder how I ever rode without it. I still favour my left side - even when I sleep or drive the car - and I shoulder-check to my left with great care. Despite every shred of evidence that suggests I'm good to ride, I start every ride with thoughts dancing through my head of what could go wrong.
  5. But I still ride. My wife, bless her, constantly encourages me to take the bike out, to go and explore. I dawdle, often finding other things to do, and sometimes never even make it out the door before a) the rains come or b) darkness falls. But eventually I force myself to push off and disappear for a while. I've been bike-commuting to work more than ever this year, each ride treated as something of a victory. I often take the long way home. My initial wimpiness aside, it feels wonderful and once I'm rolling, I wish it would never end.
  6. I tolerate mean-spiritedness even less. I've never had much patience for people who are less than kind. The stroke dropped that tolerance to zero. I'm so conscious of the value of time now that I simply don't bother with people who tick me off. I'd hate to do the math at the end of my life and realize I devoted undeserved time to anyone who didn't deserve it. I remember what it felt like as I was locked in, aware of everything around me but completely non-verbal, to wish I had used my time better. So I won't make that mistake going forward. I'm not being arrogant; just pragmatic. We only have so many minutes. Let's use them more wisely.
  7. Small things mean a great deal. I celebrate things - events, moments, people, even routine tasks - that, beforehand, I might have simply allowed to slip into the past. I appreciate little things more, and I try to take the time to enjoy them more than I might have beforehand. Whenever I do a radio or TV interview, for example, I pause after we're done and reflect silently on how privileged I am to still be able to do stuff like this. I'm lucky that my brain still works much as it always has. I chase sunsets with my camera more often. I linger beside a farmer's field and watch the cows. I watch my wife and kids when they think I'm not looking. I stare at stuff. A lot. It may seem odd to others that I'm spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about and hovering over seemingly everyday moments. But that's the thing about this experience; It has taught me that the everyday can be pretty magical in its own right. And if we don't deliberately drink it in, what are we drinking?
  8. I'm thankful. This may seem like an odd thing to say. Who, after all, would be thankful after having had a major health scare? So, no, I'm not glad it happened, but since I can't change that reality, I am glad that I've been given another shot at this life thing. I'm glad I was able to return to the person that I was - unlike so many others whose lives are ended or are irrevocably altered by something as tiny as a clot or a bleed. I'm acutely aware of how close I came to a very different fate, and how blessed I am that I am where I am. I'm still far from perfect - I was pretty flawed to begin with - but I feel, I don't know, different in a not entirely negative way. Let's just say it changed me.
None of this is new. None of it is earth-shattering - not for me and certainly not for anyone else. But as August 5, 2013 fades further into my and my family's rear-view, I realize it'll never completely stop influencing how my life continues to play out, and by extension how it continues to color the story of us. For every extra day that I've been given since then, I remain thankful, and hope my wish for another doesn't come across as being too greedy. Whatever I get, I'm profoundly grateful to have received it.

Your turn: Can your - or anyone's - life be profoundly changed by a single moment? Has it happened to you?

Related:
So, about that stroke... (Aug. 5, 2014)
When even a thank you seems lame (Aug. 7, 2014)
More stroke stuff... (Aug. 21, 2014)
Coming up on Canada AM (Feb. 7, 2015)
Winding down the day that was (Feb. 10, 2015)
Two years on... (Aug. 5, 2015)
3 bonus years (Aug. 5, 2016)

Life in the abstract

Somewhere to sit
Toronto, ON
July 2017

Photo originally posted to Instagram
The game was over. The good guys had come from a seven-run deficit in the 9th inning to win the game 11-10. It was just one game in the midst of a miserable season, but it was an historic moment - the biggest final-inning comeback in Blue Jays history - that made our kids incredibly happy.

I waited a while for the stands to clear out. We weren't in a rush - I think everyone just wanted to hang around a little longer to drink in the moment, to pinch themselves one more time that they had actually seen it, for real. It isn't often that you get to share a simple experience of unadulterated joy with your family, so we stayed.

Eventually the Roger...er Skydome (sorry, it'll always be Skydome to me) emptied out and I spotted an empty section of seats directly opposite us in the deck overlooking left field. Since I have a thing for patterns and colors, I thought one final abstract scene before we headed for the exits was in order. Of course, we have no idea who sat here on this brilliantly sunny and hot July afternoon, but we're pretty sure they left the game filled with as many indelible memories and feelings as we did.

Your turn: Who's your favorite team? Why?

Friday, August 04, 2017

Payphone against a concrete wall

Who you gonna call?
Toronto, ON
July 2017

Photo originally posted to Instagram
In light of today's massive landline and cell phone outage in Atlantic Canada, this quick capture from a Toronto subway station last week seemed somewhat timely.

We're never more than one quick mistake away from technological meltdown. Today, we saw that reality in action.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Binders on a forgotten shelf


Every once in a while, we come across a scene that reminds us how quickly life moves, and how quickly today's commonplace items become tomorrow's forgotten relics. I found this in deep, deep storage, and for some reason it made me stop and think about what we lose when we move on from paper.

I don't think I have the answer that that one. Nor do I ever expect to.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The age of 17

Young man, emphasis on the man
Stratford, ON
May 2017
In my mind's eye, he was just born. In my mind's eye, he'll always be "just born". And no wonder, as he's our youngest, our baby, our little man.

Yet today he turns 17, not quite a baby and definitely not little. That adorably delightful munchkin who completed our family and gave his older brother and sister another best friend is no longer just a kid who's simply defined by his place in the pecking order. He's a remarkably capable, responsible, sweet, smart and kind young man. Everyone who knows him loves him. And for good reason, as he always seems to be working the room, working the moment to find the smile in others.

I've always seen so much of my wife in our kids, and Noah is no exception. He got her ability to draw others in, to make them feel as if no one else matters when it's just the two of you together. To take the everyday and make it worth something more. This is a kid who's always seized life, and watched out for others along the way. And as he stands on the threshold of leaving behind forever that sense of being a kid, a baby, the youngest, I realize the things that have made him such a good soul all along had precious little to do with the order in which he came into the world.

Happy birthday, Little Man. Keep putting your amazingly unique mark on everything you touch and on everyone whose path you cross. And never forget why we all love you so much.

Your turn: What's your wish for Noah as he turns 17?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thematic Photographic 414 - Knobs & Dials

Only in a Jeep
London, ON
April 2017
As touchscreens rapidly take over from traditional controls in everything from cars to kitchen appliances, it's only a matter of time before we've pressed our last button or twisted our final dial. I've never been one to stand in the way of technological progress - indeed, my career has been largely based on tech - but I fear we're losing something along the way.

There's a tactility to traditional knobs, dials, switches and other analog controls that no touchscreen can ever replace. When you're at the wheel and you want to bump up the fan speed, you can easily do it by feel if your HVAC system uses a big old manual control. You control it with little more than subconscious muscle memory while the rest of you tends to the very important task of keeping the car between the lines.

I love my touchscreens, but they simply can't pull that off. So when I saw this mode control dial in one of the Jeeps from the work fleet, I had to shoot it. Because no one really knows when this, too, will exist only in software.

Your turn: Take a picture and post it to your blog or website - or use one you've already taken and/or uploaded - that evokes this week's theme, Knobs & Dials. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. Feel free to visit and contribute again throughout the week. And have fun, because Thematic is all about fun. For more background on how Thematic works, head here. Thanks, gang!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

On truth

"The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself."
St. Augustine

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Could have been. Would have been.

This furry being was born 11 years ago today. We sadly lost him last December, but that's the wonder of being dog people: In a whole lot of ways they never really leave you.

We brought Calli into our home just over a week ago, and hardly a moment goes by as I watch her that I don't see some echo of Frasier. From the way she sticks her hind legs straight back when she lies down, to her bouncy, not-quite-straight walk, and a spirit that I can only describe as a mixture of scrappiness and sweetness, she's every bit the schnauzer that he was, and just as deeply embedded into the fabric of our family.

We miss you, buddy, and will never stop seeing snippets of you in every corner of our home and lives.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The family grows by one, again

My name is Calli, Calli Levy
Stratford, ON
June 2017
As many of you may know, it's been just over six months since we said goodbye to our beloved pup, Frasier. The house has been quiet ever since. Too quiet, even. I miss the walks, the waking up to a sleepy schnauzer at my feet, the coming home to a bouncing furball whose only reason for existence is to spread joy to his people. We all miss these moments, and it hasn't been easy adjusting to life without his wacky presence.

I guess that makes us dog people, and it's a label we wear proudly. It isn't convenient, cost-effective or logical to own a dog. Yet we do. Because life otherwise seems a little less complete, a little less rich.

So after much discussion within our family, we decided to bring another pup into our home. The munchkin in the photo above is Calli - full name Calli Finn (short for Finnegan, of Mr. Dressup sock-puppet fame, because I'm weird like that.) Like Frasier, she's a miniature schnauzer. She was born May 9th, and we brought her home earlier this afternoon. Here's what she looked like when she was two weeks old. For more pics, follow her on Instagram.

We don't speak dog, so we couldn't really talk about her day with her before we tucked her into her new crate with her now-favorite toys (Eeyore is in the early lead) and watched her instantly drop into a deep sleep. But if she could talk, she'd probably tell us about what a tough day it was for her. About how she was taken by strange new people to a strange new place. I worried about that on the drive home. I hope she saw the day as a good one, as the beginning of an exciting new chapter in what we fervently hope is a happy, healthy and fun-filled life. I hope she knows how much we already love her.

We're pretty sure the next few days, weeks and months will be sleep-deprived, mess-filled and generally chaotic as she adjusts to us and we do the same with her. I say this not because we cherish sleep or a perfectly neat house, because in my book that's not what qualifies as a life well lived. I'd gladly give up some zees in exchange for watching our kids continue to grow as people. Our first dog taught them so much about life and responsibility as they rose to the challenge of managing his diabetes. Whatever the future holds for Calli, I know she'll find some way to carve herself into their lives, as well. Because dogs make us better people. They make our kids better people, too.

Welcome to the family, little one. We can't wait to see what adventures await us all.

Your turn: Why do we love dogs as much as we do?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

13 years + 1 day

Yesterday was this blog's 13th birthday* - or its bar mitzvah, if you're into that sort of thing. Which I was, once, but no longer am, as it's been a while since I was 13. But I digress.

Yes, the blog. About that...

I started it before Facebook was a thing. The now-dominant social media giant existed on June 26, 2004, of course, but it was still The Facebook, an embryonic Web 2.0 experiment that classmates used as a digital hot-or-not service. Mere mortals still didn't have access. It was two years before Twitter launched, before social media was really on our radar. Before the iPhone. Sure, some suits carried BlackBerrys, but they were only about email and messaging back then.

It was a radically different digital world, and blogging took the then-unidimensional web (surf, read, repeat) and gave everyday folks their own platform, their own voice.

The rapid encroachment of all the things I mentioned above - and then some - has in a few short years transformed the blog from what was once a sign of digital savviness to a quaint relic of a bygone time when we put an i before everything and a number - 1.0, 2.0 - after everything.

Quaint as it has become, however, I continue to write here because for all its network-based power, Facebook is ephemeral, and not something that is distinctly ours. What we post there is quickly absorbed into the past in a fast-moving timeline stuffed with ads, memes, Candy Crush top scores and conspiracy theories from folks you once loathed in high school and now, thanks to social media, loathe even more. Facebook is a busy place, where the vast majority of people who know tend to hang out. But it isn't ours. Or mine. It's like a busy airport terminal: Hardly a place you can call your own.

Likewise, Twitter is too limited, too filled with bullies and trolls. Snapchat is where the kids hang out, and whatever we write will disappear in 10 seconds, anyway. As you go further down the list - to WhatsApp, Pinterest, LinkedIn and beyond - you get deeper into unique online sub-groups that further accentuate the modern mobile/social Internet's splintering effect.

Which leaves the doddering old blog, where the number of comments in a month might equal what once flowed in before lunch. But compared to today's far busier social platforms now represents something of a quiet spot from which we can watch the chaos unfold.

Thirteen years on, the wonderful relationships I've formed through this blog continue in many forms - often on alternative platforms - and I sometimes wish we could rewind the clock to the days when this form of communication dominated the online landscape. But as I've said so many times before, technology moves in only one direction, and it's up to us to either adapt or fall off the back of the treadmill. This blog, like all blogs, may no longer be current, leading-edge or as uniquely relevant as it was back in 2004. But it's still my quiet little corner in a tumultuous online (and real) world, and I can't imagine not having this place to return to when I need a little word-based balancing between my ears.

Thank you for joining me on the journey, and thank you for keeping the flickering embers alive. To 120 for us all...

--
Related:
And so it begins (June 26, 2004)
Thrice around the sun (June 26, 2007)
10 times around the sun (June 26, 2014)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thematic Photographic 413 - Pretty in Pink

My ride
Dorchester, ON
May 2017
Behold my brightly-colored bicycle. It's a Specialized StumpJumper Comp that I've had for longer than I dare admit. I'm not really about things, as I don't tend to covet physical objects or use them to define who I am in the eyes of others. But I love this bike. It fits me. It feels like it was made for me, and riding it - to/from work, or wandering the hinterlands that surround our town - is an indescribably joy because of this well-made-yet-simple machine. I'll never understand why Specialized painted a men's bike in burn-your-eyes pink, but I'm glad they did, because it makes me smile every time I walk up to it.

Sometimes when I go somewhere, I'll take a picture of it in all its imperfect, dirty glory. Here, it's parked on a bridge over the Thames River in a lovely little town east of London. This was my first stretch-the-distance ride, where instead of riding in loops close to home I instead ventured further into the countryside. As I get deeper into the season, the distances get further and the rides get harder. But as long as I have this lovely pink thing - and a moment or two at the turnaround point to grab some pixels to remember the moment - I know I'll always find my way back home.

With this in mind, let's celebrate all things pink for this week's Thematic. If it's any shade of this fab color, it's time to shoot a picture and share it. Who's with me?

Your turn: Take a pic that suggests or evokes this week's theme, Pretty in Pink, and post it to your blog or website. Alternatively, find a pic you've already taken and/or posted. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. And pop back again through the week to add additional pics as they occur to you. Head here for more background on how Thematic works. And please accept my thanks for making this little weekly photo-exploration exercise of ours such a joy.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Drop the pen. Pick it up again.

So Eeyore, a lamb and a panda walk into a bar...
London, ON
June 2017
So it's been a while since I wrote anything new here, and given the fact that Written Inc. celebrates its bar mitzvah tomorrow (13! An adult!) I thought now would be a reasonable time to a) pick the pen back up and b) explain why I put it down in the first place.

Quite simply, I haven't much felt like writing. We've had a lot on the go within my family - nothing terrible or earth-shattering, but intense enough that sitting down for regular keyboard-mashing sessions no longer topped the daily priority list. In other words, life happened, and it demanded our full attention. So rather than force myself to squeeze some words out that probably wouldn't have felt right, I decided relative silence was the preferred path. It's not like I wasn't creating, mind you, as I continued to post photos to my Instagram account - which then automatically ended up on my Facebook and Twitter streams, too. Awesome how technology works, isn't it?

But there's a world of difference between fast-sharing a pic from your smartphone and taking the time to write something. And I was a writer before I was anything else. So while I think it was good for my writer's soul to be a non-writer for a bit, I suspect now it's time to fish the proverbial pen out of its shadowy nook in the far corner of my desk and use it for its intended purpose. Silence isn't meant to last forever, after all, and there's a lot of interesting stuff on the way over the next few days, weeks and months. Thanks for your patience.

Oh yes, about this somewhat oddball picture: I'm the one who chose the panda, while the kids chose Eeyore (always my fave 100 Acre Wood resident) and the lamb. They sit, among way too many other stuffed toys, in a small-ish bin at the bottom landing of the stairs, just beside our living room. They're dog toys, and we bring Calli Finn home this Thursday*. The house has been too quiet for too long. It's time to start telling new stories, and celebrating new beginnings.

Your turn: What else should I write about in the days to come?

*Here's what she looked like the day we picked her out. She's a bit bigger now.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On Carl Sagan and the technological mess we've created

"We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
Carl Sagan

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thematic Photographic 412 - Architecture

Stone-faced
Toronto, ON
February 2017
If you find yourself staring at buildings because you find them neat, know you're not alone. Any structure of any era has to offer at least one redeeming reason for a stare or two. Even if it's a glass-and-metal box, there's got to be something there that connects with your soul.

And because I've been shooting human-created structures with alarming frequency of late, I'm hoping you'll consider doing so, too. If anything, it eases my guilt for missing Thematic last week. In the party atmosphere that was my birthday, I forgot to hit the Publish button. Bad Carmi.

Your turn: Take a pic that ‎evokes, supports or merely suggests this week's theme, Architecture. 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!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sitting in the subway late at night

All angles
Toronto, ON
February 2017
The scene: Valentine's Day night. I'm in this city a couple of hours from home because of a work thing. The team has already had dinner and we've all headed back to the hotel to shift gears for an evening of extended shmoozing. I'm not much of a party person or a drinker, and I'm the world's least effective shmoozer. So I politely decline invitations to go clubbing or sit in the hotel lobby bar. Instead, I reach for my camera and head out for a walk before tuck-in. That's me, Mr. Social.

Before long, I find myself descending into a subway station, because nothing says Valentine's Day like a subway station. My goal is simple: Sit on a bench for a few minutes, and watch the comings and goings. As I settle into a spot, I notice the stairs, and how institutional, public-space architecture like this always seems to speak to me.

Later on, when I review the pics from this walk, I have a bunch of random snaps of strangers in the varying stages of forced Valentine's Day bliss - ranging from overt public displays of affection to what I'm pretty sure was a breakup-in-progress - but it's this one that keeps taking me back, that paints a picture in linear slashes of blue tile and germ-infested chrome, of what it felt like to be looking for some kind of inspiration on a night when all I really wanted to do was hang with my family.

Related: This photo on Instagram.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

On reading - and life

"Read in order to live."
Gustave Flaubert
So if anyone's looking for me, I'll be in the corner over here, reading. I'll leave it to you to guess what. Suggestions always welcome.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The 10 things I HATE about social media

We're a little over a decade into the so-called social media era, long enough that's it's now a normal, everyday thing for most of us. It's also been around long enough for some of us - I'm not judging, pointing fingers or naming names; not yet, anyway  - to have built up more than a few annoying habits along the way.

With that in mind, here's a quick list of some of the things that elevate my blood pressure when I thumb past them on my smartphone:

1 - Posting selfies, and only selfies. While there's nothing wrong with a selfie or two thrown into the mix here and there, Every Single Picture need not be of you. Look, I get it: I'm an occasional-selfie-taker, and they are a fun addition to the photographic toolkit. But they aren't everything. Point the lens outward and tell the story instead of constantly being the story. You're interesting, but not that interesting.

2 - Turning your timeline into a real-time vacation travelogue. First of all, anyone who posts pics while they're on vacation is an idiot (hey criminals, please rob my empty house!) Second, isn't the whole point of a vacation supposed to be that you get away from social media and other tools of everyday technology? Instead of a never-ending, one-at-a-time stream of unedited and badly composed photos posted while you're away, why don't you enjoy the moment, then edit and post a carefully curated summary once you get home? Combining wall-to-wall selfies with real-time vacation pics is even worse. So please stop.

3 - Sharing a list of 10 concerts. I don't think you much care about who I've seen perform live on-stage, and I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual. Wait, I'm completely sure. I don't care that this is the latest hot meme that's sweeping Facebookistan, and why everyone else is falling all over themselves is beyond me. Unless you really like being a sheeple, I guess. Try coming up with something original instead. It's a little more work, but it makes for better reading.

4 - Participating in a meme. Those endless "Let's see who reads this..." posts are so far beyond being played out that I can't believe they're still a thing. When half my feed is filled with cut-and-paste sameness because no one can be bothered to share an original thought, I begin to wonder if any of us has a future. If you want to write something close to the heart, sharpen your virtual pencil and write it yourself. Why would I be bothered to read and respond if you can't be bothered to think?

5 - Sending game invitations. If you can't learn to turn off notifications and invitations when you play an online game, perhaps you don't deserve to have a social media account. I know it sounds harsh, but someone needs to have the courage to tell you your endless game invites aren't merely annoying. They also make you look lame.

6 - Overshare. I know way too much about the intimate lives of way too many people, all because they insist on posting longform accounts of their child's latest outburst at home, their most recent run-in with the crazy neighbors on the other side of the fence, their trials and tribulations at work, and their years-long efforts to have that baby boy they always wanted because three healthy girls simply weren't enough. Look, I love the way social media gives us insight into the lives of people we care about. And the social media space is filled with lots of examples of people who do it right - with grace, sensitivity and class - and I will never get enough of the good kind of sharing. But holy cow, people, learn where to draw the line. The difference between appropriate and inappropriate levels of sharing should be obvious to us by now. Sadly, they aren't.

7 - Using your timeline as a scheduler. Blog posts, Facebook status updates and other publicly-shared messages are best served as focused summaries of things that matter to you, not comprehensive, excruciatingly detailed accounts of your day that make me wonder why you feel the need to share it all. I'm exhausted enough managing my own day in 15-minute increments that trying to follow yours in blow-by-blow format is damn near impossible.

8 - Write everything in one long, endless paragraph. Did grammar go out the window with the advent of social media tools? Do we no longer know how to communicate in bite-sized chunks? Considering the increasingly attention-deficit nature of digital messaging, you'd think the 5,000-word-all-in-one-graf Facebook post would be a thing of the past. You'd think wrong. Use that Enter/Return key, people. I beg you.

9 - Announcing periodic cleanups of your friends lists. Passive-aggressive much? If you're going to unfriend or unfollow someone, just do it. Don't pre-announce it. Don't post it to all your friends and ask them to beg to stay in your good electronic graces. Don't post again, after the fact, to let your remaining "friends" know how lucky they are to still be in your orbit. If you do, and you suddenly find me absent from your timeline, now you know why.

10 - Sending unsolicited group messages. There's a reason there are laws against spam. Wait, there are TONS of reasons. But what's now taboo in email seems to be perfectly acceptable on social media. If I didn't ask to be on the recipient list for your mass Facebook Messenger message, then don't put me on it - especially if you stuff it with weird emojis and animated GIFs.

I'm pretty sure this makes me sound like the old codger standing on his lawn whining about those darn neighborhood kids, But when we're gifted with some of the most sophisticated communications technology ever conceived and we choose to waste it on Candy Crush and Donald Trump memes, I can't stand silently by the wayside.

Your turn: What bugs YOU about social media? Let me know in a comment...maybe there's another list - or two, or three... - in our collective future.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

On making the world a happier place

"There are two ways to spread happiness; either be the light who shines it or be the mirror who reflects it."
Edith Wharton

Monday, May 01, 2017

Thematic Photographic 411 - Gardens Galore

Colors of nature
London, ON
April 2017
I don't know a whole lot about plants or gardens beyond the sad fact that I tend to kill them. It isn't intentional, but of all the people born with the innate ability to nurture plant-based life, I'm not one of them.

Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it photographically when it grows on its own, though. So when this particularly colorful example of hen and chicks - or sempervivum - presented itself in the garden underneath our kitchen window, it was an easy call to point the lens down and have some fun with it.

We had some fun with this pic on Instagram and Twitter. For the next week, I hope you'll do the same here on the blog. And on yours!

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is gardens galore. Feel free to take a picture of a garden. Or a garden plant. Or a garden of plants. Or anything that's alive and lovely - remember, it's all about how you choose to interpret the theme, and there are non wrongs here. After you're done shooting, post the pic to your blog, website or social media presence, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Did you already post something long ago? Share that, too! Visit other Thematic participants to share the Thematic goodness - we'll be at it all week. New to Thematic? Here's the lowdown. Thanks!

On volunteerism and Muhammad Ali

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
Muhammad Ali

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Reflected sunset

Where glass meets sky
Toronto, ON
February 2017
Thematic. Reflective. Here.
May as well fess up now: I'm not the world's biggest fan of work-related travel. Of course, I love to get out and explore, and I relish that feeling of discovering new places and learning the ebb and flow of a new part of the world. Well, new to me, at least.

But sometimes all that exploring can be more strain than it's worth: The airport security gauntlet; the getting up well before dawn and not stopping until way after midnight; the business dinners and networking when I'd rather be home with my fam; the waking up in a strange place and having to run the treadmill at 11 even before I've gotten out of this strange bed in a strange hotel room; the fact that you're always "on".

Face it, I'm a whiner with a homebody complex. Guilty as charged. So when the professional calendar includes from faraway time, I try to normalize it a bit by building in some walkabout time. Because stealing an hour or two - or even a few fleeting minutes - in between all the scheduled, serious stuff gives me a much-needed mental break, an opportunity to see more than just the inside of a conference room, and think about more than the next PowerPoint slide.

On this late afternoon on my way back to the hotel after a long day of meetings preceded by an even longer pre-dawn trip just to get there, I politely declined an offer to crunch into the back of a strangers' car with a bunch of co-workers for the four-block trip back to our hotel through downtown-Toronto traffic. Instead, I slung my camera over my shoulder and pointed myself in the general direction of our common destination. I'd meet them back there well in time for dinner, but unbeknownst to them, I needed a few minutes along with my thoughts and my camera.

As you can see, it didn't take me long to get into the photographic groove before I had to put my "on" face back on and get back to the business of being in business. Besides, there was another walk in store - in the dark - after dinner was done.

Your turn: Do you travel for work? If so, what do you do to feel "normal" when you're away?

Related: This photo in Instagram

On technology, change, and survival

"Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road."
Stewart Brand

Saturday, April 29, 2017

When reflections outshine the real thing

Sunrise framed in a window
London, ON
January 2017
To share your own reflective-themed Thematic, head here
The scene: I've just dropped our daughter off at school. It's a cold winter morning, and the campus is quiet as I slowly point the car toward the exit. The brightening sky grabs my attention as I idle through the largely deserted parking lot. As much as I try to focus on the drive, I can't stop staring at that sky. It's calling me.

I figure I have plenty of time to get to the office, so I find a parking spot, grab my camera and wander over to a pile of snow to get the best possible vantage point. I grab a few pics, but they all make me feel somewhat meh, as if that little flash of an idea I had in my head when I first saw the sky doesn't seem to have translated all that well through the lens.

I decide I'm done for the day - can't force blood from an artistic stone, after all - and head back to the car. As I approach, I notice the reflection in the window and think I might have been looking in the wrong direction all along.

On the impressions we leave behind

"Whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect. There is some work that will never be done if you don't do it. There is someone who would miss you if you were gone. There is a place that you alone can fill."
Jacob M. Braude

Monday, April 24, 2017

Thematic Photographic 410 - Reflections

No longer alive
London, ON
April 2017
I took a photowalk the other morning, my way of killing time while our daughter was at work. I hadn't been out in a while, and I deliberately brought the wrong equipment with me - a lovely old 85mm lens that I almost never use because it lacks that do-everything convenience of a zoom.

Looking at what I brought back, I realize I've been missing the point all along because a fixed focal length lens forces you to shoot in a completely different way. You have to use your feet and your brain to pre-compose, and soon enough you find you don't much miss being able to zoom in and out with your fingertips. Photography isn't always about taking the easy way out, and this long-overdue walk turned into a nice reminder of that.

I also forced myself to shoot monochrome - another throwback to when I used to challenge myself to look at the world differently. More of this looms in my photographic future, as well.

Your turn:  This week's Thematic theme is Reflections. Please share a pic or three (however many you wish) of something that supports this theme. Be liberal with how you interpret the theme, as that's the point of the exercise - so mirrors, bodies of water, even car windows are all fair game. Post your pic(s) to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it/them. Head here if you'd like more info on how Thematic works, and feel free to drop by again later in the week - bonus if you bring a friend. Enjoy!

On questions vs. answers

"It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."
James Thurber

Fitbit saves woman's life

Can a Fitbit save your life? Patricia Lauder would doubtless say it can.

The 73-year-old Connecticut resident originally bought the wearable device to help her keep track of her steps. Like millions of other people, her goal was to simply lose a bit of weight.

One day, she wasn't feeling well, and noticed that the Fitbit was showing consistently higher heart rate levels from one day to the next. After her heart rate spiked to 140 beats per minute and she felt short of breath, she decided to see her doctors. Good thing she did, as they quickly diagnosed two pulmonary embolisms - which, left untreated, could have killer her.

My $0.02: As wearables continue to (slowly) grow in popularity, we'll see more examples of how they benefit users in unexpected ways. Your mileage may vary, of course, but no one doubts that greater visibility into health-related data isn't good for us. It absolutely is. And in some cases, it can even be lifesaving.

Now please excuse me while I snap my Garmin into the bike and pedal off for home. If you're in the 'hood, you're always welcome to join me.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Facebook Killer: Who's responsible?

By now, everyone's familiar with the horrific story out of Cleveland, where Steve Stephens walked up to a random stranger last Sunday and shot him dead. What made the murder of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. stand out from all others was the fact that the gunman captured it on video and shared it on Facebook. A multistate manhunt for Stephens ended two days later he was cornered just outside Erie, Pennsylvania and shot himself as police closed in.

The incident raises significant questions about streaming online video. Its exploding popularity has exposed a dark side to the technology, with escalating examples of rapes, beatings, suicides, and now murder, and growing concern over the lack of tools that can quickly shut down streams that violate the service's terms of use and give law enforcement real-time guidance to respond to crimes broadcast online.

Right now, no such tools exist, and Facebook relies on user-submitted complaints - a process that is inaccurate and slow. In the Stephens case, the video remained online for over 2 hours after the murder was committed. In other cases, it's taken days and weeks for Facebook to process takedowns.

Facebook issued a statement - as they'd be expected to do - expressing its outrage, and is working on automated tools to monitor and address such abuses in real-time. But it's a major technical challenge, and it won't happen overnight. If and when these tools ultimately roll out, they'll come too late for the victim of this unbelievable crime.

Here's my $0.02: This is what happens when technology rushes too quickly ahead of the frameworks, rules and laws that would govern it's abuse and protect its users in the process. It also begs a number of wrenching questions:
  • Whether having access to Facebook Video and Facebook Live could have been an encouraging factor for the gunman.
  • What role the companies that make these technologies might be playing in the spread of an entirely new form of crime.
  • Whether it's time for Internet "broadcasts" to be regulated in the same way conventional ones have always been.
Your turn: What do you think? What responsibilities does Facebook have in ensuring its apps and services are used for good and not for evil?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thematic Photographic 409 - Stuff you find in the basement

Dirty old cables
London, ON
April 2017
Some folks see basements and storage areas as icky and dirty. They may be right. But that doesn't mean they aren't worth a little photographic love, as well.

Which brings us to this week's Thematic theme, stuff you find in the basement. This theme will work nicely if you actually have a basement. But in case you don't, any old storage area will do. Or a dark, dusty place with lots of old stuff hanging around. As always, there's lots of creative room here, so have fun with it.

Your turn: Take a pic that reflects the "stuff you find in the basement" theme - or find one you may have posted online - and then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to pull in a friend. We'll be doing this all week, so don't be shy. And if you're new to the Thematic thing, click here and all will be explained.