Sunday, June 26, 2016


I sit next to my dad in the hospital waiting room. He is awaiting an ultrasound procedure to see if the swelling in his feet and right hand is being caused by a blood clot. A blood clot that could have happened post shoulder surgery. A week into recovery, his shoulder is doing as good as it can being confined in a sling 24/7 for the next eight weeks, but now there is this pesky swelling. He has had blood clots post surgery before, so there is reason to be concerned.

In the corner of the room a suspended television broadcasts The Weather Channel. On the screen are images of the flooding in West Virginia; whole houses floating by in rivers that have overrun their banks, houses where the water has receded but left behind three inches of mud on the main floor, bridges washed away and people stranded at Walmarts and McDonalds, sleeping in store conference rooms and in booths meant for enjoying Big Macs and french fries. On the television the scene changes from the floods of the east to the wildfires of the west; rubble where ten houses once stood, people standing next to the television crews car being interviewed about how they had lost everything, including their cell phones.

As we watch these images, my dad turns to me and says "I wish I had traveled more, seen some of the things you have seen: Yellowstone, Glacier, The Rocky Mountains. But I wouldn't want to travel on those crazy expressways, I would want to take the back roads." In my best loud voice I say "It isn't too late dad, you could still do it." He looks at me and says "Oh Sarah, at 81 it is too late".

They call my dad's name and off he goes for his ultrasound. I rub my right shoulder, feeling the ache of the constantly changing temperatures.

My dad comes back and we wait for the ultrasound results to be read and the decree from his surgeon.

As we pull up in from of my parents' house an half hour later my dad says "I'm sorry I spoilt your day for nothing". I said "You didn't spoil anything, we found out you just need to stay away from salt, and wait for the swelling to go down, and the best part, I got to spend time with you".

Friday, June 17, 2016

You Gotta Wait For It

Once upon a time my husband and I use to have date days. One day each month we escaped, taking turns planning surprise outings. It was great for our marriage.

I don't remember many of the places we went, and I didn't journal at the time, although now I wish I had. But one particular date day does stand out in my mind, and its not because I planned it. No, it was because we both contributed to it without even knowing it.

One day in early summer, my husband brought home a brochure for the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, a nature center with seven miles of hiking trails. He had been to the Institute on a work sales call, and picked up the brochure while he was there. He showed it to me as soon as he got home, saying "we should go here sometime, they have lots of scheduled activities, including a firefly viewing party". As with most "sometime" things the brochure was placed in a pile and promptly forgotten. Until one day when I was sorting through that pile. It was my turn to plan the next date day, and since it was now October with fall in full technicolor glory it seemed the perfect time to go.

The day of our date we set off as soon as we dropped our daughter at school. My printed turn-by-turn directions tucked discreetly into the driver's door pocket. I had planned it so we would be there as soon as the gates opened.

We had a great morning and early afternoon, at one point stopping at a bench beside a lake to eat the snack I had packed in my small backpack. But eventually the snack wore off and we were hungry, we had hiked quite a bit of the seven miles of trails. We decided to drive into the town of Hastings, about nine miles from the Institute for a late lunch. Not knowing the area, I let my husband drive us there. He had been to a brew pub there once for work, and wanted to take me there.

Now eight years later, I found myself back in the small town of Hastings on a solo adventure. I stood in front of the same brew pub, but this time I noticed a whole new world of details that photography and writing have taught me to see. I parked downtown, a short distance from the pub. I didn't want to rush the memory, I wanted to walk slowly and savor all the things around the pub, things I was unaware of last time.

First order of business was to look for a coffee shop. A coffee shop tells a lot about a town, and a lot of small towns don't have anything besides a Starbucks located next to the strip mall on the outskirts of town. The best small towns still have a local coffee shop in the heart of their downtown. I was fortunate, this small town did. I paused outside on the pavement, trying to determine if this was my kind of coffee shop, when a gentleman headed for the door said to me "Go on in, best coffee in town". Well, who can argue with that, so in I went. Adorable coffee shop located on the street level of an old Masonic Temple. Oh, how I wanted to go upstairs and explore, especially when the sign outside said there were offices to rent. I am certain there will be a return visit to this coffee shop.

Back out on the pavement with a 16 oz. chai latte in hand, I set to wandering.

Here is a glimpse into my thoughts while wandering:

  • I wonder if I look more like a local if I have a coffee cup in my hand as opposed to my dslr slung over my shoulder.

  • I wonder what that yellow building is over there...

  • That looks like an old train depot... 

  • I love old doors.

  • A his and hers shop, how practical.

I have found I need a minimum of two hours in a town to get a good feel for it, and the only way to explore is on foot.

I had put in my two hours of wandering time and was back at my car, feeling I had discovered everything of interest, but also feeling disappointed. There had been no defining moment in those two hours. The defining moment for me is something that gives my heart that fluttery feeling. As I was driving toward the end of main street preparing to turn around and go back the way I had come, I saw it...the defining moment. A river walk that actually went past decaying industrial grunge buildings, my heart was a fluttering.

There was a convenient parking lot right next to the bridge leading to the grundy buildings. I grabbed my dslr from the back seat, not caring if I looked like a tourist anymore, and set off for more wandering.

The defining moments, the heart fluttery moments, are the moments that I get lost in. Although I do try to stay aware of my surroundings and who is around me. So it came to be that I noticed the gangly high school age boy leaning against a telephone pole across the street, watching me. A lady with a german shepherd came walking by, and the boy stopped her to chat and tell her what a nice looking dog she had and give it a scratch behind the ears. I dismissed him, figuring he couldn't be too harmful if he liked dogs. The lady walked on, the boy resumed his watching, and I returned to my moment.

Shortly thereafter I heard him cross the street behind me, turning around I saw that he was now leaning against a telephone pole about ten yards away. I had two options here: continue to ignore him and let him watch, or make eye contact and acknowledge him. I chose the latter. He was a brave boy, a curious boy, he asked the question I have been anticipating forever "What are you photographing?". Even though I have been anticipating the question, I failed to find the words to express what truly lies within my heart.

He was looking at a chain-link fence, an overgrown yard, brick buildings, windows encircled in rust, and couldn't see what I saw, the defining moment, the heart fluttery moment. Maybe if he saw my photographs he would understand, but then again maybe not, and maybe it doesn't matter.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Farmers Market

When I was in later elementary school my dad took up a new hobby - beekeeping. He was already skilled in the art of woodworking and woodcarving, those hobbies helped to pass the winter months, but at heart my dad is an outside man. Beekeeping gave him that outdoor hobby to occupy him spring, summer and fall. My parents live on twenty-three acres of country delight, so there was plenty of room for a handful of bee hives.

It took a couple of years to get honey output up so that it supplied more than just our family of four. By the time production was up to full speed, I was in middle school and more than old enough to help. I spent many late summer afternoons in the basement with my dad; we would take turns hand cranking the honey extractor. While I was turning I would watch the honey spin out of the hive frames hitting the cylindrical metal sides of the extractor and slide down towards the exit spout, where it waited to be released into new, white five gallon pails. We would bottle and distribute from the bounty in the five gallon pails.

Once we had the supply, we had to figure out a way to create demand. This was the late 1970's and early 1980's, the eat healthy and organic lifestyle had not emerged yet. But there was a new venture in our downtown on Saturday mornings - The Farmers Market - a place for small local farms to sell the excess from their crops without having to man a roadside stand ten hours a day.

I remember getting up at five a.m. so we could be in line at the market by six. In those days, spaces were rented on a first come, first serve basis.

I always felt a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies as my dad and I pulled into our space in his fire-engine red Chevy truck, and set up our sunshine yellow, polka-dot pool umbrellas for shade. I would then set out the Christmas red and bottle-green boat cushions as our seats on the tailgate. But then we unloaded my dad's masterpiece - a handcrafted barn board table with the words Honey For Sale engraved into the front apron. The pints, quarts and gallon jugs of our honey, the sun lighting up the liquid gold inside, looked amazing on that table.

Most Saturdays we made enough profit to stop and get a Big Mac, fries and a coke on the the way home. But making money was never really the point of it, I got to spend priceless Saturday mornings with my dad; sitting on our boat cushions, eating store bought cookies, and drinking lemonade out of a big silver thermos. Those are some of my happiest memories from childhood and I would never trade a moment of them.

I still go to the Farmers Market every week, but as a customer instead of as a vendor. The Farmers Market is the trendy thing to do now, everybody wants fresh fruit, vegetables and unprocessed, raw honey.

Now I wander the aisles with my daughter, shopping for plants, picking out fresh strawberries, selecting fresh flowers for the dining room table. We stop every week at our favorite coffee booth for 16 oz. cups of the flavor of the week. We chat with the guy behind the coffee pots, sharing bits of our morning thus far.

My dad, at 81, still keeps his bees. He doesn't need to go to the Farmers Market anymore, those early days lead to many repeat and loyal customers. Now he has more demand than supply. But if he did decide to go back to the market, he would still have a very willing helper.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

He's Watching Me

He stood astride his bicycle at the corner of 8th and Franklin. I could feel his intent gaze on me as I photographed the red doors of Trinity Episcopal Church. Satisfied with my red door captures, I wandered toward the former Masonic Temple father down the block, I felt his gaze follow me.

Maybe he was the documentary photographer that I had been fantasizing about, but I doubted that he had $4000 of camera gear in that backpack at his feet.

I was on his side of the road and started to make my way towards him, but I chickened out at the last minute, choosing instead to recross the street and photograph some pretty flowers at the side of the church. I wasn't ready to answer any questions regarding what I was doing. Even though I had my acceptable answer ready. I was taking a photography class, and one of the assignments was to visit a small town and photograph the buildings. While not 100% true, I am always taking some online photography course, and I will probably need pictures of architecture sooner or later.

By the time I had finished photographing the flowers, he was gone. He must have realized I was avoiding him, and didn't wish to creep me out any further.

Able to wander freely again, I set off to explore the rest of the downtown that I had driven through for the past twenty years. Driving through the boarded up and crumbling in favor of the bright, shiny and new at the Outlet mall.

I was happy to see fewer empty, dusty plate glass storefront windows and more open signs. A sign of hope and better things to come. Restoration is a slow and painful process in small towns like this, but it can be done. It just takes a community that cares about supporting local businesses and local business owners. 

Eventually I did have to answer the question of what I was doing, but I was ready when the time came. I had passed this door once, in favor of an artfully arranged window of local artist's wares, but I could feel the tug of the green door pulling at my heart. I went back. In the process I passed the owners of a new gallery admiring their business sign that had been hung the day before. As I passed them the second time, they inquired if I was looking for a certain business or waiting for a store to open. I gave them my 'taking a photography class' answer, and they completely understood. But I could have told them the truth, that I was having a day to myself to photograph and work on writing a blog post, they would have gotten it. They were artists after all. 

Even after my successful day of exploring old buildings, it was hard to leave even one unphotographed. On my way out of town, I saw this place. My heart got that fluttery feeling, and I knew I had to turn around and go back. As I got out of my car and stood in front of this boarded up building, I looked around for the guy on the bicycle, I was ready to answer his question.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Vivian Maier Day

Caribbean music plays in the distance, a refreshing breeze blows across my face. I am pleasantly warm, but not sweaty. A perfect day at the beach.

Suddenly my eyes pop open, those aren't the sounds of the Caribbean I hear in the distance, that is my alarm. I reach over the side of the bed, grab my phone off the charger and tap the screen to stop the music. I look at the time on the screen, ten minutes after five. I have been sleeping through my alarm for ten minutes. How did that happen? Then I remembered, last night before going to bed, I had set the fan on medium instead of low, to help clear the stuffy air out of the bedroom. Obviously medium is much louder.

I don't have to be anywhere early, I just don't like to deviate from my normal routine.  I lie back on my pillow. I was having the best dream, in it I was Vivian Maier, the mysterious street photographer of the 1950's and 60's. She built an intriguing and sometimes haunting body of black and white street photography work over her lifetime, a body of work that wasn't discovered until after her death. I have been fascinated with her story since the moment I heard it, to have such amazing work and never share it, seems so sad.

Vivan also had a unique talent for captivating self-portraits. These were often captured in the reflections of building windows and doors. I envision myself as Vivian Maier every time I take my own self-portraits.

I recently spent the day in Michigan City, Indiana. Another place that has been on my bucket list for a long time. For the past twenty years I have made almost yearly trips to Michigan City, not to photograph, but to shop. There is huge outlet mall there, the first of it's kind in our midwest area. I would stare longing out the car window as we drove through the deteriorating downtown, the storefronts boarded up, with peeling paint, and crumbling bricks.  Buildings like those give me the same rush that a heroin addict probably feels when they press the contents of the needle into the vein of their arm.

For twenty years I tortured myself by driving by those buildings in favor of bright, shiny and new. Bright, shiny and new really isn't my thing.

As I stood on the corner in front of my first high of the day, I wondered what people thought as they saw me photographing an old derelict building. Were they curious? Were they envious? Were they suspicious? As I knelt on the pavement in front of that former barber shop, photographing it from every angle, I envisioned a documentary photographer following me around for the day, capturing me capturing the things I love. Not that I enjoy having my photograph taken, I would just like to see what other people see as I photograph.

Where I deviate from Vivian Maier is that I would like for people to see my work before I die. I would like to have conversations about it, and about their work. I want to encourage others to do the things that give them those euphoric moments, just as photographing old buildings does for me.