Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Even the skies know

Unable to see
Laval, QC
February 2013
This is the view from the 12th floor balcony of my in-laws' condo, just a few hours before my mother-in-law's funeral. I woke up alone on this dark morning and trundled out onto the snow-covered balcony in my jammies, not because this was a particularly inspiring or happy scene - it wasn't - but because it reminded me of what life was like before.

When my father passed away a few years back, I wrote about "before" moments and "after" moments. In a whole lot of ways and for a whole lot of reasons, life changed fundamentally when we lost him. And pictures I had taken before that day seem to have, in retrospect, taken on a different, more innocent tone. As if we had no idea what was about to happen. Or maybe we did and simply chose to ignore it. Whatever.

Well, I'm back to thinking about life in terms of befores and afters. Because it represents a simple way of dealing with something that is anything but simple. Because the before pictures from this balcony (please see links below) represent something decidedly warmer than the after shot at the top of this entry. Because the before moments were shot around dinnertime, with me bouncing out of my seat in the dining room after noticing the setting sun doing something particularly lovely, grabbing my camera with barely a word and heading for the sliding door.

With my mother-in-law nodding approvingly, I'd shoot quickly to capture whatever I could, then rejoin the family at the table. I'd often share a quick view of my screen with my mother-in-law, who would then suggest which ones needed to be posted here.

On this morning, there was nothing spectacular happening in the sky. There was, in fact, no sky. My mother-in-law wasn't here. No one was nodding approvingly. No one was around to look at my screen and choose the best ones for a blog entry. Somehow, it struck me as a sign that we were very firmly in the land of the afters. Somehow, the sky knew that today wasn't a day for visibility, brightness, warmth or sharing. And yet again I had no clue how to tell the story from a place that had once been drenched in sunlight, but was now bathed in an uncertain fog.

Related links:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

There are no words

Anyone who knows my wife, Debbie, knows how fiercely devoted she is to family. We live hundreds of kilometres away from her parents - thousands when they're in Florida - but not a day goes by when she's not on the phone with them, tightly connecting herself to parents who very ably planted the seeds of family and community in her. In our own home, she is the pillar around which everything revolves, the one with all the answers, the centre of our world. She got that from her parents.

Deb's mom passed away Friday night. She had been sick for years, and this winter was especially challenging, as she had been in and out of hospital in Florida. Still, like Debbie, that inviolable, grounded, ever-present beacon for the family, she always found a way to return home and be there once again for everyone around her.

I wish I could have waved a wand to make that so. I wish I could have held my wife when she returned from visiting her in Montreal last week and ensured that everything would be ok, that she'd soon be back in her kitchen throwing together yet another family-connecting Friday night dinner or simply reaching out by phone to ask the kids how their day was. I wish I could have fixed this.

I wish for so many things. The universe has other plans.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On Mouseketeer wisdom

"When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life could change."
Annette Funicello

Wanna be starting something?

Wrap party
Mississauga, ON
January 2013
Click here for more Thematic letters & numbers
This is where I work. And if you forgive my enthusiasm, it is as cool as it looks.

I remember walking in on my first day and seeing this. It made me smile then, and it makes me smile now. Because wrapping a good chunk of the outside of your building in inspirational messaging that speaks to the core of your brand is, in a word, neat. It speaks volumes about the culture of the organization.

I wonder if my wife will let me do something similar at home. Hmm...

Your turn: Cool advertising. Please discuss.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cholesterol city

Oeuf means egg
London, ON
February 2013
Click here for more Thematic letters etc.
I've been shooting in the grocery store again. Yes, I run the risk of being busted. Again. No, I'm not going to let that stop me. Life's too short to waste not doing stuff because you worry what others might think I or do.

It's not like I'm knocking off a bank. I'm shooting egg cartons, so I think I deserve a pass for trying to find the fun in the otherwise unfun (yes, it's a word. Because I say so.)

Man, I'm in a mood tonight. You?

Shuffling into the distance

Game on
Laval, QC
September 2012
Click here to share your Thematic contribution*
You can always tell when a building or complex targets the, ah, older demographic by the stuff they have outside. Playgrounds and splash pads are out. Walking paths with emergency call buttons, and shuffleboard pads like this one are in.

I don't think I've ever actually seen anyone use this particular sliver of concrete for its intended purpose - when we walked through with the kids, we tried hopscotch to no avail - but perhaps just knowing they're there is enough to make the residents feel a little more at home.

I may never play the game, here or anywhere, but I find the notion of simply having things like this sprinkled around the grounds to be rather comforting. We all have different definitions of home, and sometimes some basic concrete and paint can make more difference than we might have imagined.

Your turn: What makes a place "home" to you?

* This week's theme is letters, numbers & other characters, and you're all invited to toss in a photo or two or three. Here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On remembering the things that matter most

"Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thematic Photographic 235 - Letters, numbers & other characters

Civic minded
Laval, QC
September 2012
My career revolves around stringing letters into words, then connecting those words into sentences that, if I'm on my game, make some kind of sense.

So it's no surprise that this week's Thematic theme, letters, numbers & other characters, pays something of a tribute to the building blocks of our (usually) literate society.

I'll kick things off with this view of the rear end of a well aged Honda Civic Si. I had a red one back in the day, and it remains a car that always catches my attention on the road. Not because it's flamboyant - it isn't - or hugely powerful (same), but because it's got just a little more zing than the regular Civic, and it was expressly designed to fly below the radar. The automotive equivalent of wolves in sheeps' clothing do more for me than any striped, body-kitted, ginormous-exhaust-equipped look-at-me-mobile ever will.

Because to me, driving has never been about impressing those around me as I pull up. (Who's impressed with headache-inducing exhaust systems, anyway?) Rather, it's been about impressing myself as I go about the back-and-forth of life, about all those little things - shifter, clutch, engine, cornering feel - coming together to elicit just a smidge of a smile as I make my way home.

Something about this car, parked quietly in the back lot, made me remember why I chose an Si all those years ago. This one may not be perfect. But who ever said perfection was the goal?

Your turn: Thematic is our weekly photo sharing and learning extravaganza - just click here to learn more. First, post a pic that evokes the theme (anything goes, really) to your blog or website. Then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic goodness. Repeat as often as you wish throughout the week. And, as always, please accept my thanks for making Thematic such a highlight. Enjoy!

Never let your kids take your phone...

...because this is the result.

Mind you, he's got such a sweet face that I'm willing to let it slide. Bless his incredible soul.

Saying goodbye

Leaving on a jet plane
Vancouver, BC
February 2013
Early morning flights aren't ideal for taking out-the-window pictures of the place you're now leaving. By design, planes need speed to pull themselves into - and hopefully stay in - the sky. By design, rapid motion and low light aren't the photographer's best friend.

Unless, of course, you decide to try something a little different. Which explains this handheld shot of 1/6-second exposure from a fast-moving, jangling aircraft as it lifted off into the early morning gloom.

I'm sure I'll be back here sometime, and probably sooner than I can imagine. But for now, this will have to do as my last glimpse of a place I hope to return to soon. Because I didn't get enough time on the ground to appreciate its charms before I was back in the air again.

Your turn: A place you'd like to revisit. Please discuss.

About this photo: We're winding down our Thematic celebration of speed. Still a bit of time to squeeze your contribution in - just click here - before we launch our new theme, letters, numbers and other characters, tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Let the record show that this morning, I made pancakes for the kids. In the process, nothing was burned and no one was starved or poisoned. At least not yet.

Given my, ah, less than stellar skills in the kitchen, the munchkins had a good time ridiculing me along the way. But with our daughter's expert guidance - she knows where my wife stores everything, because otherwise I'd be resorting to garden tools - we somehow all made it work.

A good morning amid the darkness. Gotta love these little people.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

When artwork takes to the road

Scooby lights the way
Toronto, ON
December 2012
Click here to share your own speed-themed Thematic
I've long contended that cars can be pieces of art. Once you get past the mathematics of minimizing efficiency-robbing aerodynamic drag, there's more than enough artistic room left over for stylists to have a field day.

And even if they don't, the opportunity rests with the observer to find the loveliness in it. Because beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and even older vehicles designed long before efficiency was part of our vocabulary have their own kind of beauty. It's just waiting for us to discover.

On a frigid December morning when I looked into the eye of  this scarily fast Subaru Impreza WRX, I caught a glimpse of that innate loveliness, and that little voice in my photographer's head said this was a perspective I didn't want to forget.

I seriously need to hang out in car lots more often.

Your turn: How can we explain society's interest in cars?

When life gets in the way...

Sorry for going quiet this week, folks. Lots going on in our little family's world, some of it really good (work) and some of it really challenging (pretty much everything else.)

I'll have more later, but in the meantime I didn't want anyone to think I had disappeared for good. I haven't: just trying to keep the right balls in the air, and just trying to be there for the people who matter most.

Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I hope you'll take a moment today to hug those closest to you. No reason needed. Just because.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On the power of teams

"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."
John Wooden

Not a lot of time to write this week: life's just doing its best to keep me away from the keyboard. Should be back to my old writing self by the weekend, so please continue to watch this space.

But I did want to share this one before I step out into the early inky morning blackness, because it reflects how I've felt of late. Much of the work I've been doing has been within a range of incredibly talented folks. The power of teams has been on full display every time I show up to work, and it's been a great experience thus far.

I thought this would be a great way to kickstart the day.

Your turn: what does great teamwork look like to you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blasting through the countryside

Ontario in autumn
East of London, ON
October 2012
Click here for more Thematic speed
The world moves pretty quickly no matter how hard we try to dig our heels into the ground. Nothing we do will likely ever change that. So when you find yourself rushing along with everyone else and unable to slow this train down, it may make more sense to simply let things roll along as they should.

For one thing, the scenery can be spectacular. Even if you left the good camera at home and only have a mobile shooter to play with.

Because in the end, it hardly matters what you're using. All that matters is that you took the time to breathe the scenery in. That you can always control.

Your turn: How do you slow things down?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Thematic Photographic 234 - Speed

Close enough for me
Somewhere over Western Canada
February 2013
Sitting by the window on a cross-country westbound flight - WestJet Flight 509 from Toronto/YYZ to Vancouver/YVR, if we're being picky - you eventually run out of things to do. Sure, you can keep cycling through the programming on the seatback entertainment system, but staring at screens or pages for too long in moving vehicles makes me more than a little queasy. So the window offers a welcome break from the monotony.

When you're winging your way across the country, it's easy to assume you're all alone up there. Canada's a big place, after all. That assumption, however, would be wrong. As I sat by my window, an Air Canada Airbus A-320 flew by in the opposite direction so quickly that I barely had time to aim the camera, set it and shoot. I racked off four quick frames before it was gone.

The math is easy: with each plane doing a nominal 800 km/h, the 1,600 km/h relative speed was more than impressive. Still, sitting there watching this thing fly by, it was even more visceral than that. I was blown away. I scanned inside the cabin afterward - nope, no one else had seen it. Well, except for the pilots, I'm sure.

Thankfully air traffic control knows well enough to keep oncoming planes properly separated on different vertical planes. And thankfully we still live in a world where wonders like this are literally just outside our window.

Your turn: Thematic Photographic's new theme, speed, should be a fun one for us all. Take a pic that evokes the theme and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here so folks know where to find it, then drop by other participants to share the joy. It'll be on all weeks, so feel free to return as often as you wish: multiple submissions are always welcome. Click here for more background on how Thematic works. And have fun, because that's why we do this!

With great focus...

Up close and personal
Laval, QC
September 2012
Click here for one last kick at the straight lines can
It was a cold and blustery day, with enough of a light, spitting ran thrown in to make the afternoon that much more entertaining.

The kids, antsy from being cooped up inside, jumped at the chance as soon as the weather let up just a bit. We grabbed our coats and cameras and headed for the door.

I had my camera, too, but that wasn't my real reason for being there. I just wanted to watch them explore, to see how they dug interesting sights out of a place - their grandparents' condo development - they'd been to so many times before. For once they'd lead and I'd follow.

And lead they did. The light was lousy, and the drizzle was persistent enough that we had to watch our lenses carefully. But with every dark cloud and gust of wind, they adapted and kept going. The chatter was delightful, as they discussed where to go next, and why.

Noah is proud of the fact that he's so much like me when he's got a camera in his hands. He stalks his visual prey, never afraid to get right down on the ground if it means getting a better shot. Little does he know that I'm just as proud of him for taking the art of photography and making it his own. Like everything in his life, he embraces it with more passion than you'd think a 12-year-old could muster.

We created another bunch of memories on that otherwise forgettable day. And as he continues to master the camera in his hand, I just know he'll want to keep heading for the door to create even more memories just like it.

Your turn: What's he shooting?

About this photo: Thematic launches an all-new theme, speed, at precisely 7 p.m. Eastern, tonight. Are you in?

Friday, February 08, 2013

On coming home

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."
Lin Yutang

...and hugs his wife. And listens to the kids chatter. And pats the dog. And...

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Planes, trains & automobiles

So here's the deal: the next leg of my grand Canadian tour would see me fly from Montreal to Toronto tonight, have some meetings tomorrow, then train it home to London at the end of the day.

Mother Nature apparently has other plans. She's brought a Texas Clipper to southern Ontario, which means some parts of my intended route are either now, or are about to be, getting dumped on by a whole lot of snow. As I write this, I'm in the (very crowded) airport in Montreal, my flight has already been bumped, then delayed. And I'm wondering what comes next.

I know, I know. I'm Canadian, and this kind of thing should be part of my DNA by now. I should be used to weather delays, and I should be adept at navigating my way through them with something approaching a state of workable grace. And, yes, to a certain extent I am indeed on both fronts.

Doesn't mean I don't let my pulse race a bit when I realize a routine flight is about to become an adventure. Doesn't mean I don't let my eyes, ears and mind go into high-def mode as they record every last detail about the experience. Doesn't mean I don't try to find the good in a situation most other would write off as a hopeless mess.

Because life gets messy sometimes. And if the worst of it involves a John Candy-esque voyage home alongside other total strangers just trying to do the same thing, then I figure I'm doing pretty well indeed. Bring it on, Ma Nature. I think I'm actually going to enjoy this.

Your turn: How do you brave the storm?

Windows on the world

Who's behind the glass
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Click here for more straight-lined Thematic
Every window tells a story. It can be a lens into someone's life, offering up just enough of a peek for the casual observer to make any number of assumptions about what's going on on the other side of the glass.

It's easier to play this game at night, but it's no less of a draw during the day, either. I've been playing this game for pretty much my entire life because it isn't simply about understanding the lives of others. In many respects, it helps us position our own lives, as well.

Ooh, sounds metaphysical. Maybe I shouldn't be writing this early in the morning. Or maybe I should just get a bit more sleep. Either way, this smoky example on a grey Shanghai morning lingered with me long after I returned home. Because it offered up nothing about whoever lived and worked behind its greyish facade. It made me feel small just to see it from the sidewalk. I wonder if the folks on the other side felt the same way.

Your turn: Who's inside this building? Have fun with it...

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

You're never really alone in the Land of Far, Far Away

It's been a busy couple of weeks in Pitkinville, and I've been away more than I've been home. By the time I walk through the front door and get jumped on by a psychotic dog, I'll have hopscotched from home to Vancouver to Toronto to Montreal to Toronto and finally back to London.

It's a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of trip, with intensely scheduled days in each city, followed by dashes to the airport so we can set up in the next city.

Truth be told, it's a bit of a thrill. After getting off of a plane on the other side of the country, I meet new, almost-universally brilliant people and work closely with my team to share some really neat stories with them. It's work that matters to a lot of folks on this planet - over a billion people use our software, and we're doing this because we have a neat new story to share - and you end up every day knowing that much more than when you first got up.

It isn't easy. Indeed, it's hardly worth it if it is. Life should indeed be about challenge, about pushing things a bit further every time we step out the door, about growing. Which is why I look forward to - and embrace - opportunities like this. But it isn't without a broader impact. For every time I head for the sky, I leave my wife home, alone, to juggle the multiple balls that make up our family life. I leave our kids to hold their own in keeping the house functioning, the dog fed, walked and insulin-injected, the garbage put out.

They'll do this whether I'm there or not, of course, and they'll do it incredibly well. But there's an additional weight on them all when I disappear. Not that I'm all that vital, but remove a cylinder from any car engine and something's bound to change. It'll still drive, but it's a different experience.

I tweeted this as I sat in the airport a couple of days ago, waiting to set off on the first leg of my journey: "Airport observation: you're simultaneously surrounded by crowds, yet completely alone."

Indeed, whenever I leave home, I am incredibly alone as I journey wherever it is that I'm supposed to go. As I wander through airports and train stations, no one in my immediate surroundings has the slightest connection to me. Yet in the very centre of my world, I'm never really alone. Home may be thousands of kilometres away, but I'm just as connected to it - and the vital people in it - no matter where I may be. As long as I keep that in mind while I'm on the road, I'm never really alone.

Your turn: how do you stay connected when you're travelling?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

On vegetables and laughter

"An onion can people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh."
Will Rogers

I've often wondered the same thing. Why is that?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Thematic Photographic 233 - Straight lines

Made of straw
London, ON

February 2012
Our new Thematic theme is an easy one because I need to keep things easy for the next week or so. I've been away from home quite a bit lately - really neat work stuff...more on that later - so I need to keep things simple here to avoid overwhelming myself.

Here's the deal: straight lines

It hit me while I was walking to work in Toronto one morning last week. The streetscape was composed almost entirely of straight lines - buildings, roads and other infrastructure - and despite the complete lack of anything natural, it seemed so strike one of my nerves just so. Out came the phone and I started shooting.

The launch photo for this new theme is obviously anything but urban, but I thought it would be a neat way to kick things off. Nature can throw anything at us - curves as well as straight lines - and it's up to us to look up and take notice. Over the next week, I hope you'll take notice wherever you are, and I hope you'll share what you see.

Your turn: The deal is simple. Just take a pic with straight lines in it - or one that merely suggests the concept - and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, then pop over to other participants to share the joy*. Feel free to repeat as often as you wish through the week (there's no such thing as being late when it comes to Thematic, as anytime is a good time to share.) If you'd like to learn more about Thematic, just click here.

* My bad: I've slacked on this last bit lately. Life's getting in the way...will catch up soon.

Soft light, fresh fruit

Shanghai, China
May 2012
I'd like to close out this week's soft light theme - head here if you'd like to pop in a last-minute submission - with a pic I hastily grabbed just as I was about to head for the airport. And home.

Shanghai light is, um, not clear. Persistent air pollution gives the air a permanent haze, and even on relatively good days the sky is never really fully blue. My public health credentials are somewhat thin, so I won't say anything about the long-term health impact. But in my eternal quest to find the silver lining in everything, I've learned that the photographic impact can be pretty sweet.

Exhibit A: the soft light that bathed the hotel room. I rarely used any electric lights indoors. I'd simply open the drapes and let the choked sky fill the room with soothing light. It was different than a simple cloudy day back home: Here, I never had to squint to keep my admittedly light-sensitive baby blues in balance. If only I could have brought this light - but not the combusted-coal particulates that caused it - back home.

Your turn: I'm back in the air this morning, heading to the other side of the country for a cool work thing. I don't know if they'll have fruit bowls at my destination, but I do hope you'll toss another soft light pic into the hopper before we launch our new Thematic theme - straight lines - tonight. Click here to start the fun.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

That healthy green glow

London, ON
May 2012
It was only a glass of cold water on a worn out formica table in the middle of a busy restaurant. Yet in a flash, it seemed to take on a life of its own thanks to the sunbeam that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

It had been a cloudy morning, so it was quite the surprise when the entire room brightened with the sun's friendly glow. Then, almost as soon as it appeared, it disappeared, the room once again bathed in the same monotonous grey that had been covering the region for days.

Glad I grabbed the camera when I did, because moments like this tend to vanish before we know they're happening. Or how special they are.

Your turn: The last drink you had was...?

One more thing: We're still sharing soft-light-themed photos as part of this week's Thematic. Head here to see what all the fuss is about.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

On sacrifice

"One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it."
Sidney Howard

Your turn: what are you going to give up? More importantly, what are you aiming for?

Friday, February 01, 2013


Sculpted light
London, ON
February 2012

Click here for more soft light Thematic
You're looking at an eternal flame. Walk into the sanctuary of any synagogue and it's pretty much the center of attention.

I've never actually seen any eternal flame go out, so I'm guessing they have some pretty good backup processes in place. But the cynic in me still thinks hanging the word "eternal" on something is a bit of a stretch.

Long-lived flame? Better-than-temporary flame? Sure. But eternal? I don't know about you, but I'm willing to bet if the future me pops back in, oh, 10,000 years, the light won't be on. Indeed, I'm guessing all evidence of the building will be gone, as well.

Forgive me for having a little fun with the concept of eternal. I realize it's just symbolic. And by using the very word, it forces us to think longer-term, bigger-picture. It's more virtual than real. And that was just fine for me on this bright afternoon as I stood underneath this remarkable creation and thought about things bigger than me.

Your turn: What does "eternal" mean to you?