Expressing My Personal Perspective through Wedding Photographs

Summer is the season for weddings. They start in May and for every weekend through the end of September, caterers, photographers, florists, musicians, DJs, and planners are booked solid. Two weekends ago, I attended, for instance, to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding and two weekends before that I went to the wedding of the daughter of a close friend.

Sometimes it’s hard to get an image of the wedding couple sharing what seems to be an intimate and private moment. They were between photos with the ‘official’ photographer, when I saw them caught up in laughter and snapped this image.

As a the daughter of a professional photographer, I spent countless weekends at weddings assisting my Dad behind the camera. (This was a big help when it came to planning my own wedding years later because by that time, I had been to and seen so many weddings that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for our own.) The routine was a bit different then. We could shoot three weddings in one day–morning, afternoon and evening– with either myself or one of my brothers finishing up at one wedding while my Dad went to start the next.

My cousin beamed with pride when he had his Father-Daughter dance at his daughter’s wedding. I had my Nikon pro camera with me that evening and good lens so I managed to snag this image of him when he turned on the dance floor with his daughter, the bride. Sometimes, it’s not all about the bride.

That era ended with photographer Dennis Reggie in 1980, who Ethel Kennedy had hired to ‘cover’ her daughter’s wedding. Reggie, a photojournalist, took the assignment and then hit the professional photography speaking circuit to show and tell professional photographers all over the country how he did it.  I attended one of these sessions and knew then that the art of wedding photography, as I had learned it from my Dad, was changing.

The mother of the groom is usually much more relaxed and available during any wedding but is sometimes overlooked n the ‘official’ documentation. I caught Sheila at a moment when no one else did.

When digital cameras were introduced, it changed yet again because photographers could capture literally thousands of images at the ceremony. They soon discovered that this wasn’t such a great idea because clients were overwhelmed by that many images. Too much of a good thing, you might say.

Wedding photographers have since trimmed it back to a more reasonable delivery but some still present as many as 1,500 images. Think of the editing process entailed in cropping, adjusting color, retouching, adding special effects and eliminating  all those images. The post-production often takes longer than the 12 hours wedding photographers now typically spend photographing the event. I’m not sure even National Geographic magazine photographers turn in that many images to their editors.

Toasting the Bride and Groom
Taken with my pocket point and shoot, I raised a glass to toast Yuliya and Yama at their wedding and took this image while I did,

While I rarely accept wedding assignments these days as a professional photographer (except for special clients and smaller ceremonies), I almost always take one of my cameras with me whenever I go to a wedding because I, like you, enjoy having a visual memory of that day, particularly when family is involved.  Usually I take my pocket point and shoot, or my bigger but compact trusty Canon (yes, I do own one Canon), instead of one of my professional Nikons. I seldom use my mobile phone to take the pictures even though some phones images are terrific. But when it comes to preserving those images in the form of prints (which I still make and encourage you to do) or printed albums or books, cameras produce the higher quality high-resolution images you need.

My friend the mother of the bride, was way to busy the day of her daughter’s wedding to stop for many photos, but I managed to get her beside the ‘cookie instead of cake’ table during the reception.

For me, the images I capture on that day are personal and often are not the same as those the ‘official’ photographer is shooting.  That’s because while the hired gun is busily photographing every moment of the bride and groom and the wedding party, I’m focusing on my family and friends who are there, and the moments that capture my eye from my point of view as a guest. It’s something you can do too but you must be mindful to respect the working pro so as not to get their way as they attempt to capture the ‘perfect’ photo of ceremonial kiss,  the cake cutting, send off or formal portrait of the bride and groom.

From my seat. I was able to get the groom, Matt, and one of the bridesmaids boogeying during the processional. Note the photographer in the background, Matt s brother, the officiant, and the mother of the bride enjoying the moment on the left. I love this scene because of its spontaneity.

There are ways to get those same images, from your own vantage point. I like to find a seat on the end of a row where, if I want to stand during the ceremony to grab a quick shot, I won’t block anyone’s view. And while the official photographer is off shooting the bride and groom immediately after the ceremony, you can zero in on the family, the cake table, the altar decorations, whatever it is that attracts your eye and you want to remember.

Ringbearer Brody stands beside the table bearing the Bible and center candle that belonged to my aunt. The table, also my late aunt’s, served as the altar at my cousin Anna’s recent wedding.

Sometimes, it turns out that the images I’ve captured are ones that my family or friends also want because unless the bride and her mother (or whoever plans and directs that day) specifically point out the family member who’s never around, the best friend who traveled across country, the arrangement or setting that has special significance, the official photographer will never know to include it in their shooting list.

My aunt and uncle with my cousin Barry at his wedding reception is a special image. Only 18 months later, my aunt passed away from complications of dementia.

As a guest and/or family member, I have a history and relationship with the people gathered for this memory-making day so I know things others won’t and that is  reflected in my photographs.

I took this of Yuliya and Yama with my compact Canon while the ‘official’ photographer was shooting on the other side. Later, I used Photoshop to improve the exposure, give it a painted appearance and heighten the romantic feel of the image.

I love today’s style of photojour-nalistic wedding photography. I also love being artistically creative with the images I take at these ceremonies. But what I really love is the memories they bring to mind of the people, places and times that are unique and meaningful to me and my family.  And that’s essentially what wedding photography, whether from a hired pro or personal photographer such as myself, should be.

Fourths Full of Fireworks, Family and Friends

This morning was quiet when I awoke.  The stillness wouldn’t be that unusual for a holiday morning except for the fact that this was the Fourth of July, the U.S. day to celebrate its independence. When I was a kid, that meant starting the day off with a bang, literally, as my brother and I hopped out of our bed, threw on some clothes and raced outdoors to light what would be the first of many firecrackers that day.

My son, Marshall, ready to celebrate with his string of Black Cats.

Times have changed as setting off individual fireworks have been banned in many communities, such as my own, leaving it to the pro pyrotechnicians to provide a choreographed aerial night display. For the most part, it’s a good thing although I do miss seeing kids faces light up as they swirl the glowing wands of sparklers. And I loved the ground fountains that burst up with sizzling flares of color.

But the silence of the morning made me think of all those wonderful Fourth of July holidays past here in Bellingham.

A fireworks show on the front yard of our house.

I smiled remembering nights when my own middle-school aged sons gathered up their collection of fireworks, call us all out to the street in front of our home and set them off to their own choreographed show, complete with patriotic music blasted from a boom box that had been turned up to full volume.

Then there was the family barbeques at our friends’ home who lived then on a local lake.

The kids line up for hot dogs right off the grill.

Food was plentiful, with everyone bringing baked beans, deviled eggs, hot dogs and hamburgers, salads, pies, cookies and ice cream, all pretty much considered to be ‘traditional’ American Independence Day favorites.  Moms and Dads would talk and drink beer while we watched the kids leap off the end of the dock into the still chilly lake water. A few others would hop into the kayak and paddle a short distance out from the shore where they would still be within sight of parental eyes.

The kids take a break from swimming and kayaking to eat a Fourth of July picnic.

And then, of course, as night began to fall (nearly 10 p.m. here in the Pacific Northwest), the homemade fireworks show would start with the explosions from Roman candles being directed out over the water.  When it was over, we bundled up the leftovers and our sleepy-eyed kids and headed home.

Firing off the Roman candles from the dock.

Later, when our friends moved to a home on the bay, we did the same thing sitting on the beach, watching the sun sink as he dug into the delicious apple and cherry pies that had been baked especially for the occasion. Of course, we always had a fire going so that we could make s’mores–those wonderfully gooey treat of melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow squeezed between two layers of graham crackers. And the fire also kept us warm because Fourth of Julys here can be chilly, if not rainy.

A festive pie for the Fourth of July.

I recalled the more recent holidays when our sons, now grown, were not home to celebrate or, if they were, preferred to head off with friends to watch fireworks than join the ‘old folks.’ One memorable Fourth was spent out on a boat in the bay enjoying the company of friends from the annual summer music festival and viewing that night’s light show from the water. Quite an experience. Still another found us sitting nearly directly beneath the big blast over the harbor as we sat with another couple on the terrace of a shore side restaurant, savoring the food served up for the special evening while overhead the ‘bombs’ were bursting in air.

The Fourth of July on the boat in the bay gave us a spectacular view of the fireworks show that night.

More recently, we’ve headed over to a friend’s home late in the day for a potluck on their deck.  After dessert, we settle into one of their patio chairs, usually with a blanket close at hand, and wait and watch for the big fireworks spectacle, sponsored here for years by one of our local markets. They have an excellent vantage point from which we can see it all, including the show also being staged in nearby Blaine, just up the coast and the individual efforts from the Lummi Nation across the bay.

Happy Fourth of July. Long may our Star Spangled banner wave.

While the colorful aerial pyrotechnics are fun to watch, it’s mostly the company of the friends and family we are with that really make the evenings fun and memorable. It’s that feeling of fellowship, of sharing a special day with people special to you, some who you may only see on this day once a year. And that’s what I remember most about this holiday. I hope your Fourth of July is equally as memorable and as full of family and friends as it is of fireworks.

The Last Game

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago, we were Kings hockey fans. We became hockey fans when the great Wayne Gretzky took the city by storm and turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. But with the move north, we soon started attending the games in Vancouver, B.C., just 45 miles across the border and soon traded our Kings sweaters for Canucks colors.

At the time, we had three little boys, one of whom was already playing hockey and a second who began not long after we relocate. Travelling to Vancouver for a hockey game became a special family outing. The boys quickly memorized the names of all the players and, in the case of my oldest son, even recognized the referees.

Together with two of my sons who, like me, became Canucks fans at one of the games we attended together.

Gradually, we learned the best route into downtown Vancouver where the arena is located, the places to eat before or after the game if we didn’t want stadium food, the time to leave to insure we arrived in time for the first face-off, and, most importantly, where we could park the car for without paying a hefty $20 to $30 lot fees near the arena. For a while, we took the Sky Train in and out. And after the Olympics in 2010, the adjacent neighborhoods changed bringing new restaurants, shops and traffic patterns, especially around the Olympic Village which completely revived that decaying area.

A pair of our tickets from this year’s season. Will miss our seats.

It wasn’t long before we bought season tickets located in the upper level, attacking end of the ice near the gate and up high enough so that the protective netting above the glass didn’t interfere with my camera angle. I became pretty adept at shooting the action on the ice from far away with my point-and-shoot cameras because cameras with removable lens aren’t allowed inside. One of my best shots was the one when Alex Burrows fired a game winning goal in overtime past the shoulder of the Chicago Blackhawks goalie to cinch the play-offs for the Canucks and send them to the Stanley Cup finals.

I captured the winning shot by Alex Burrows that sent the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

There are other memories as well.  Like the New Year’s Eve we took the boys for the then traditional game against Philadelphia and stayed overnight in the Vancouver Hotel. The next morning, the boys and I snuck into one of the hotel’s ballrooms where a party from the night before was still strewn with discarded party hats that we then put on our own heads and danced around. Or the year that my youngest son’s hockey team got to come out on the ice during the first period break and play a quick ten-minute game for the home crowd. After the Canucks game, they were escorted down to the locker room waiting area where they met Matt Cook, then a rookie, who signed autographs for them. My son later had Cook’s name stamped on his Canuck’s jersey. Cook was later traded but has since retired back to Vancouver.

I won’t forget the first time the Sedin twins skated onto the ice making their NHL debut. They’re now the ‘old men’ on the team but still dominating.

Of course, we won’t forget the first time that the Sedin twins from Sweden—Henrik and Daniel—first skated onto the ice to join the team. They were only 17 and celebrated their 18th birthday with a crowd of 18,000. The Sedins are now 36 and Henrik, who’s currently Captain, is the team’s all-time leading scorer.

We were there for the retirement of Markus Naslund’s number but missed the raising of Trevor Linden’s banner due to an ice storm. Our Vancouver friends got our tickets instead.

The 2016-17 season opening night line-up. In recent years, the Canucks games have become known for their production quality.

Then there are the not-so-great memories like the terrible incident with Todd Bertuzzi in 2004 who assaulted an opposing player whose injuries ended his career and Bertuzzi’s too with the Canucks. And Manny Maholtra who fans loved and who unfortunately received a serious injury to his left eye from a puck and lost significant vision. He’s now back as a Development Coach with the Canucks.

My son, Marshall, studies the game whenever he goes to see the Canucks. One reason he probably became such a good player himself.

There are memories too of the crowd cheering “LOOOOOOOOU” for goalie Roberto Luongo and the standing ovation the fans gave him upon returning from the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal win in 2010. Memorable too was the moment of silence our Canadian friends respectfully paid to the U.S. when the season opened after ‘9-11.’  The sympathy we received from our seatmates who knew we drove up for the games from the States was touching and overwhelming. And the friendship we developed over the years with Terri and son, Calum, who sometimes meet us for dinner, join us for a game or take our tickets when there’s a game we must miss.

Waving white hand towels, as my son demonstrates here, is a play-off game tradition that began with the Canucks.

We were there for the start of traditions such as twirling white hand towels above your head during play-off games. Or laughing at the antics of the ‘green men’, covered head to toe in green skin-tight body suits. Or watching the giant Orca blimp bob high around the arena dropping prizes to fans below until one night the remote-controlled balloon dive-bombed the crowd and lost its job.

Only once did we catch one of the T-shirts propelled by an air gun into the stands by Fin, the team’s Orca mascot. Once was I caught momentarily on the big screen when the camera turned on to our section. Never did we win the 50-50 cash raffle benefitting Canucks Place, the team’s charity for critically ill children. Never did Fin stick our head into its giant tooth-lined mouth as it did with other fans although I managed to snag a photo with the oversized Orca once during a period break.

During a period break, Fin managed to snag a photo with me!

The memories will continue but the season tickets will not. At least not for now. Last night was our last game as a season ticket holder. Forty games a season is just too many for us to make with our sons no longer around to The league also has changed the scheduling so that the Canucks, who must travel further than any other NHL team, are away for long stretches then back home to play games almost back-to-back. That much back and forth for us to Vancouver is more than we can fit into our already busy lives right now.

So as much as we hate giving up those great seats, we’re not taking them again next year. We’ll still go to games to cheer on our Canucks. But won’t be there as often and may not be sitting in ‘our’ seats. For us, it’s the end of a season and the end of an era. It’s been fun. Thanks Canucks!

The last game of the season marked the end of an era for my family.

 

Vacation 1953

While sorting through some old photos yesterday, I came across a group of faded black and white 3×3 snapshots. They were photos I didn’t recall seeing before. I decided that they must had belonged to my aunt Imogene. I’m not certain how I ended up with them but they were tucked into an envelope with other, unrelated family photos.

Except for one, their reverse sides were blank. But on that one, in my aunt Imogene’s handwriting was the note: 1953 Vacation going to Bandon, Or., pictures taken at Colo. Springs Colo.  That was it.

The group passed through Dodge City, apparently, where they visited the legendary Boot Hill.

I looked more closely. I recognized my aunts Lavetta, Oleta and her husband, Joe, Imogene and her husband, Jim, and my uncle Austin.  In 1953, they would have been in their 30s and late 20s. Uncle Austin might have just been back from the Korean War, as was my Uncle Joe who had already served in World War II. I am not certain that my aunt Lavetta was married yet. Were they traveling out to attend my aunt Phyllis’ wedding in Bandon, I wondered? Bandon was where my Grandma had moved after leaving Missouri where all her children were born and grew up.

Where did they stop for this picnic? Was it lunch or dinner? Why the ketchup bottle?

How special to look back at the aunts and uncles I knew and loved. They were so young, so unaware of what was yet to come in life, having so much fun in these photos. The photos of them picnicking especially drew me in.  They sat together lunching, I’d guess, at a tablecloth-covered picnic table, drinking bottles of Coca-Cola and eating fried chicken. If they were travelling, the chicken was probably cold. A bottle of ketchup stood square in the middle of table. Did they have french fries too? I would have guessed that had potato salad but ketchup didn’t fit.

After the picnic, they took time to relax before hitting the road or at the end of their day?

I love looking at my aunts dressed in their short-sleeved cotton camp shirts tucked neatly into Capri pants. And I studied the shoes that they had kicked off to relax on a blanket that had been tossed on the grass after the picnic. They seemed in no hurry to get to their Oregon destination in these pictures.

Before boarding the funicular to ride to the top for a view of the Royal Gorge, my aunts and uncle stop for a photo.

They took time to go up the funicular at the Royal Gorge, or so it appears from one of the photos.  It looks as if they stopped at the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, a 35,000-acre preserve in South Dakota where the photo of their backsides was made as they stood reading the preserve’s marker. Maybe that’s where the photo of the two married couples on the trip standing in an otherwise nondescript country was taken.

The small portion of the sign on the wall told me that my aunts and uncles had stopped at the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve on their drive to Bandon.

I studied the photos, trying to glean a story about their trip from them. As I did, I thought of my mother who, after retiring, spent a good portion of her time putting our family’s photos into albums and labelling many of them. It made me think why it is we take photos such as these on our various travels and what they bring and tell us when, years afterwards, we go back to look and remember those sojourns. In this case, I had only the photos from which to construct a story. How I would have liked to have asked them questions about that trip had I known about it before finding these visual memories.

Where was this taken? There’s no clue to tell me. But I laughed at the matching pants worn by my aunts.

My aunt’s photos made me think of my own travel photos and why I take photographs when I travel. Will my photos one day be discovered for someone else to enjoy, to relive the moment I did, to wonder how I felt, where I was going, what I did? More than just a testament that ‘I was there’, photographs like these found on a rainy Saturday  can take you back in time, can cause you to revisit the day, to remember the people you love, the places they went and the fun they shared.

Going to the Chapel…

My husband and I were married 40 years ago today in what was once the First Baptist Church in Phoenix, Az. Today, the former church is listed on the National Register of  Historic Places.  I like to think that it’s because we were married there that it ended up on the registry.

We chose (mostly I did), to say our vows there because it was where my parents had been married in the same church.  Although many couples are often wed in the same church as their parents, especially if they live in the same town, neither my parents nor I was from Phoenix.  At the time of our weddings, we just happened to find ourselves in that city.

My mother and father oustide the church in Phoenix after their wedding.
My mother and father outside the church in Phoenix after their wedding.

In my parents case, my Dad, who had recently returned from World War II, was on the road with a trailer full of greyhound dogs. His oldest sister and brother-in-law raced greyhounds and travelled the country going from dog track to dog track. When my Dad came home, he was “in pretty bad shape,” as he said.  My aunt Nola and uncle Paul gave him a job as a trainer to help him put his life back together.  It meant hauling their greyhounds around the country to wherever the season was open. But before leaving his hometown of Parsons, Ks., one of my Dad’s other sisters, Gail introduced him to a girl with whom she worked with at the First Federal Savings and Loan and who she thought was “just right” for my Dad.  Her intuition was good and, as my Dad liked to put it:  “I knew she was the girl for me.”  In fact, just two weeks after they met, my Dad told his new girlfriend that if she didn’t marry him he’d rejoin the Army. Then he left with the dogs.

On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in in love, in Phoenix' beautiful Encanto Park.
On their wedding day in Phoenix, my parents were pictured here, so in love, in Phoenix’ beautiful Encanto Park.

When he got to Phoenix, where there was a big greyhound dog track, he asked his sweetheart to come marry him there.  What a big decision for my Mom. Not only had she never traveled much further than Parsons from her tiny hometown of  Verona, Mo., but she barely knew my Dad.  She must have known he was the one for her too as she, then 25, and her oldest sister, Oleta, drove together to Phoenix. Soon after they arrived, the young couple was married in the chapel of the First Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix that stood at the corner of Monroe and Third Avenue.  They were married 65 years, until my Mother died in 2012.

Twenty-nine years later, Michael and I stood in the same church before a small group of friends and family to exchange our vows. I was working in Phoenix as a journalist, first as an intern for the Arizona Republic, then as an arts editor for the Scottsdale newspaper where my husband, Michael, also a journalist, and I met.

Michael and I exchange vows during our wedding in the santuary of the former First Baptist Church in Phoenix. The string quartet sits behind the candleabra on the left.
Michael and I exchange vows during our wedding in the sanctuary of the former First Baptist Church in Phoenix. The string quartet sits behind the candelabra on the left. My brother, Richard, then a professional photographer, captured our wedding on film for us.

When we decided to marry, we choose to do so in Phoenix where we had friends in common and where my extended family lived.  My parents once again traveled from Kansas to Phoenix for a wedding. By then, the church had vacated the building and had moved to another location. The City of Phoenix now owned it and housed some offices inside . The main sanctuary was no longer in use except for an occasional large meeting. The organ was gone and the altar had been removed. We obtained special permission to hold our ceremony there.

This style of wedding photography, marketed as 'misty's' was basically existing light exposures and popular when we were married. My father took this of us in the church on our wedding day.
This style of wedding photography, marketed as ‘misty’s’ was basically existing light exposures and popular when we were married. My father made this photograph of us in the church on our wedding day.

The sanctuary was thoroughly cleaned before we began decorating the aisles and front with the holly sent to me by my aunt Imogene in Oregon, her gift for my December wedding. The organ was removed when the church left so for music, the arts editor of the Arizona Republic, where Michael was now working, gave us a string quartet for our ceremony.  We hired a minister, someone I had recently interview for an article, and was set.

With my parents on my wedding day in the Phoenix church where we both were married.
With my parents on my wedding day in the Phoenix church where we both were married.

Although I don’t know for certain, ours was probably the last wedding to take place in that church.  The city continued to use it for offices for while after, but in 1984, a massive fire took the roof and gutted the interior. It remained structurally sound but threatened with demolition, a non-profit organization, headed by Terry Goddard a former Phoenix major and state attorney general, bought and saved it in 1992. Twenty-two years later, they had the money necessary to restore it.   Now, with the rehab just completed this September, it is being marketed to businesses for commercial use.

The church is now called the “Monroe Abbey” and is an imposing structure in downtown Phoenix. Built in 1929, its Italian Gothic style, designed by George Merrill, is architecturally significant in a city otherwise dominated by Spanish style architecture. “There’s no other building like it in the Valley,” Dan Klocke, vice president of development at Downtown Phoenix Inc. has said. “Because of its scale and its uniqueness, it could potentially attract a lot of visitors to downtown.”

Just married, we leave the church through the front doors, running through a shower of rice.
Just married, we leave the church through the front doors, running through a shower of rice.

A tenant already occupies the hallowed halls of a smaller adjacent church dubbed Grace Chapel, which is connected to Monroe Abbey but wasn’t structurally damaged in the fire. Others have leased space elsewhere within the huge 40,000 square foot interior.

For those closest to the project, the resurrection of the building represents more than just saving an old church, according to Downtown Phoenix Inc.“There’s a tremendous amount of flavor and place making and just a sense of who we are, where we’ve come from that is embodied in these buildings,” Goddard has said. “I think it’s tragic when they’re lost and I think whenever we can hold onto one of the monuments of the past – that’s something we should do.”

The First Baptist Church, known now as the Monroe Abbey, is one of Phoenix' historic architectural structures, shown here in this photo from the Poenix Business Journal.
The First Baptist Church, known now as the Monroe Abbey, is one of Phoenix’ historic architectural structures, shown here in this photo from the Phoenix Business Journal.

As advocates ourselves for the preservation of historic structures, we couldn’t be more delighted that the place where we and my parents were wedded has been given new life.  It reopened this year and it’s the best 40th anniversary gift we could receive.

 

 

A Recipe to Remember Made with Pecans and Love

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving holiday this week by gathering with family and friends around tables set for a meal full of family favorites and traditional foods. The menu typically includes a turkey, cranberries and pie. The pie, considered to be the most traditional American dessert,  is usually pumpkin, apple or pecan.

My mother was the principal pie maker at our house: banana cream, lemon meringue, cherry, apple, rhubarb, pecan and, of course, pumpkin at Thanksgiving. When my mother’s dementia became so advanced that she could no longer live at home with my father, she moved to a care home. That left my father at home alone and without her there, he became the pie maker.  I remembered this the other day when I pulled out a package of pecans to chop and add to a batch of pumpkin pancakes.

My Dad didn't know I'd caught him taking a taste of the filling he'd just stirred up.
My Dad didn’t know I’d caught him taking a taste of the filling he’d just stirred up.

My Dad loved to stop on the drive between my hometown and a neighboring town to pick up bags of pecans, freshly picked from the nearby grove. He’d freeze the shelled nuts in plastic storage bags for later keeping out just enough for the pies that he planned to make for Thanksgiving.  I was home one year when he was baking his pecan pies for the upcoming holiday dinner.

“You don’t know how to make a pecan pie?” he said surprised when I admitted that I had never made one.  “Oh, it’s easy,” he said confidently.

He assembled his ingredients from the shelves in my parents small kitchen–corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and of course the pecans. One by one he poured each amount into plastic measuring cups then stirred the filling together in the large green Pyrex mixing bowl. He took the two pie shells that I had bought at the store earlier out of their packages and set them next to the bowl of filling.

With a pile of pecans handy, my Dad begins the process of placing the nuts atop the uncooked pie.
With a pile of pecans handy, my Dad begins the process of placing the nuts atop the uncooked pie.

My mother always made her crusts from scratch. She wouldn’t have approved of the pre-made crusts. Her crusts were light and flaky because, as she explained, she avoided handling the dough as much as possible. As a kid, I watched many times as she gathered the crumbly flour and shortening mixture into a small ball wetting it lightly with tablespoons of water so that it would adhere. She’d lift it carefully onto the big wooden cutting board and gently pass her red-handled rolling-pin over and over it until she had flattened it into a circle. Then again, ever so gingerly, she eased it into the waiting glass pie pan that had been greased so it wouldn’t stick when baked.pie-man015

For my Dad, the store-bought crusts were fine. Easier and less mess, he thought. And they came with their own aluminum foil pans which my Dad thought were great.  I found this was funny given how much he took pride in his pies.

After scooping the soupy butterscotch-colored filling into the pie crusts he began putting on the final touches.  One by one, my Dad delicately laid pecan after pecan around the perimeter of the pie top with his thick, aged fingers, until the entire pie was covered with floating pecans. He placed each piece precisely and with love. Now to transfer the unbaked pies onto the cookie sheets, being careful not to slop any of the contents in the process. Mindfully, my Dad slid each sheet into the heated oven.

The last step--transferring the pies from the countertop to the oven.
The last step–transferring the pies from the countertop to the oven.

“See, simple,” my Dad said once the pies were safely on the oven rack.  It was a pie-baking lesson I’ve never forgotten. This was more than simple; this was precious time spent with my Dad, in the last years of his life, creating a fond memory that I now think of gratefully especially as Thanksgiving approaches.

I hope that as you sit down with your family and friends that you too will recall memories like my own to bring you joy, laughter, tears, love and most of all gratitude.

My Dad's pecan pies sit ready to bake in the hot oven. Each one was made with love.
My Dad’s pecan pies sit ready to bake in the hot oven. Each one was handmade with love.

 

A Veteran Who Voted

I only remember seeing my Dad cry twice.  Once was at the funeral of my Mother, to whom he was married 65 years.  The other was when he stood with my son and I at the American cemetery at Anzio, Italy.

When my Dad was 80-years-old, I took him, along my oldest son, Matthew, then 14-years-old, and my cousin, Claudette, on a trip to Italy. It was the first time my Dad had returned to Italy since there as a young, 22-year-old American GI. That trip was no pleasure visit and came right at the height of the Italian campaign of World War II.

We visit the cemetery at Monte Cassino where some of those who fought there, like my Dad, are buried.
We visit the cemetery at Monte Cassino where some of those who fought there, like my Dad, are buried.

My Dad’s first stop was in Sicily when the 5th Army and his 45th Division invaded that large island. Next came Salerno and Paestum.  Soldiers climbed down the sides of the ships carrying the troops into the landing craft that would ferry them to the beaches just south of Salerno. Regarded as the D-Day invasion of Italy, my Dad once recalled how scary it was to climb down the rope nets into the boats bobbing below. He never talked about how terrified he must have been bouncing across the water, knowing what was to come once the gate of the landing craft dropped, exposing him and his men to heavy enemy fire from on shore. The Allies lost 2,009  soldiers at Salerno, another 7,050 were wounded and 3,501 missing.  He would make one more landing after Salerno, at the invasion of Southern France.  I can’t imagine how he did it.

Rows upon rows of white crosses at Anzio mark the graves of Americans who fell during the Italian campaign of World War II.
Rows upon rows of white crosses at Anzio mark the graves of Americans who fell during the Italian campaign of World War II.

During his trip back to Italy, the one thing my Dad wanted to do was to visit the “American cemetery.” After stopping at cemeteries in Salerno and Monte Cassino, we learned that the American fallen were buried at Anzio. We added Anzio to the itinerary.

My Dad explains to my son how the Battle of Anzio took place as they view the giant map on the memorial wall at the Anzio cemetery.
My Dad explains to my son how the Battle of Anzio took place as they view the giant map on the memorial wall at the Anzio cemetery.

We rented a car and drove from Rome to Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, near the beachhead where the Battle of Anzio took place. There are 7,800 buried here, another 3,100 names are listed on the Wall of the Missing.  On the way in, we stopped at the office where a caretaker on duty gave us a pamphlet and told my Dad where he could find the grave of a friend’s uncle who had been killed when parachuting into the battle.

Together, we walked through the rows and rows of white markers. My Dad stood silently and shook his head. “I’ve never understood,” he said, “why I came home and they didn’t.” Tears rolled down his cheek.  He turned away and walked off, my son followed. They paused, long enough for me to capture a photo, in one of the rows while my Dad tried to regain his composure.

My son and my Dad share a quiet moment together in the cemetery at Anzio.
My son and my Dad share a quiet moment together in the cemetery at Anzio.

Veteran’s Day in this country is November 11. This year, it is preceded by Election Day on November 8. My Dad’s birthday is November 21.  My Dad passed away two years ago. If he were still alive, I am sure he would be disgusted by the campaigns being waged this election. But he would vote.  He would vote not only because he deeply believed it was his patriotic duty, just as serving his country in World War II was, but also for all those who didn’t return from the War as he did.

No matter your political persuasions, I hope you’ll vote this Election Day. If not for yourself, for my Dad and all those who gave their lives like those buried at Anzio, who we honor on Veteran’s Day for they are the true ‘silent majority.’

My Dad stands beside one of the graves of the thousands buried at the American cemetery in Anzio.
My Dad stands beside one of the graves of the thousands buried at the American cemetery in Anzio.

Read more about my Dad’s service record here, written by my brother Brad, and create a page for your own service member. I’ve also written about my Dad’s military service in previous blog postings. You can click on the following links to read those in case you missed them: http://bit.ly/2edw57z and http://bit.ly/2eCZyGu.

 

 

School Festival Created Halloween Fun & Family

A friend of mine was telling  me the other day that she was going to be the fortune-teller at the Halloween Festival at her son’s school.  I smiled and then recalled to her my own sons’ Halloween Festivals when they were in public elementary school in Los Angeles.

I had just come across some photos that I had taken at those festivals so they were fresh on my mind.  In fact, I’ve written about the festivals before. Here’s a link to take you there in case you missed it: http://wp.me/p2ohfO-4BE.

My friend, Pam, dressed as a 'friendly' clown and staffed the ghost castle game at the Calahan School Halloween Festival.
My friend, Pam, dressed as a ‘friendly’ clown and staffed the ghost castle game at the Calahan School Halloween Festival.

Ours wasn’t an elaborate festival but simple, old-fashioned fun with games handcrafted by parent volunteers that provided entertainment for the kids.  Many of them had been designed in coordination with the teachers (an amazingly talented bunch). In addition to the fun they provided, the games actually taught the kids something about chance and probability, physics, calculation or science. That aspect didn’t necessarily register on the kids, of course, but they still had to use some of the skills and thinking processes associated with those academic areas in order to play the games.

Games at the Halloween Festival were designed to teach the kids concepts such as chance and probability.
Games at the Halloween Festival were designed to teach the kids concepts such as chance and probability.

Parents too had a great time.  The festival, held on a Saturday before Halloween, drew families to the school to create a true sense of community within the larger Los Angeles school district, one of the largest, in fact, in the country. This served us well when the Northridge earthquake–measured at 6.4–rocked our school which was located near the epicenter of the quake. Although our school–Calahan Elementary–miraculously didn’t sustain the greatest damage, student enrollment dropped by nearly 100 overnight when families homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged so badly that they could no longer live and work in them.

Parents staffed the games at the school's Halloween Festival while the kids tested their skills.
Parents staffed the games at the school’s Halloween Festival while the kids tested their skills.

The Halloween Festival had built a true caring spirit for the school and families who were part of it. When those students disappeared from our school, their absence left a huge hole and psychologically difficult for the students who remained.  When the district then wanted to move two of our teachers because the school population had shrunk, the entire school rallied in an effort to prevent that action.  Our protests wound up as front page news of the Los Angeles Times and resulted in our teachers remaining at the school until things could be stabilized.

Principal Parade
The principal led the kids in a costume parade around the school grounds. Although he usually dressed in costume himself, this particular year he didn’t. Students still had a great time following him around the classroom and playground.

That kind of ‘togetherness’ is a lesson from which our country’s current political environment benefit.  Calahan had at least 18 different home languages with kids whose families came from all over the world.  The Halloween Festival, in particular, did more to break down any cultural, political or language barriers that existed between us because it took all of us parents, working together, to make it happen. Everyone had something to contribute and contribute they did.  Now, years later, students, teachers and parents keep in touch through our school group Facebook page or e-mail. And Calahan kids who have come after us, often ask to join just because they too have a fondness for the school. It truly was an exception in a district where schools were mostly detached from those who attended them and from each other.

I dressed as a witch on year and took photos of everyone who came in costume to Calahan's Halloween Festival.
I dressed as a witch on year and took photos of everyone who came in costume to Calahan’s Halloween Festival.

While Halloween is a scary holiday for some, for me and the kids who grew up at Calahan Elementary, it conjures up sweet memories of fun and family.  I hope it will do the same for my friend.

Fall Classic Calls Up Bygone Baseball Days

I don’t remember the World Series taking place in October when I was a kid except for the time that my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, let the class listen to one of the games of the series during class. Maybe the entire school got to listen to it as the radio came through a speaker above the blackboard and was controlled from the principal’s office by Gordon Huggins.  I only recall one other time when the radio came on during class other than for general school announcements, and that was to deliver the sad news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

I’m not exactly certain why that particular World Series broadcast was played in our classroom but for me it was a signficant series because it was the classic LA Dodgers against the NY Yankees.  I was a pin-striped Yankee fan, which you may consider curious because I grew up in the middle of country in Kansas.  But it was because of my Uncle Joe that I loved the Yanks.

My uncle Joe, right, taught me to play baseball. My Dad taught me photography.
My uncle Joe, right, taught me to play baseball. My Dad taught me photography.

My uncle had grown up in New York City and was serious baseball fan.  In fact, he was the one who taught me to love the game and who spent time tossing the ball back and forth with me, teaching me how to throw not only a softball but a hardball.  I knew all the players on the field at the time–Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek and Joe Pepitone (my favorite because he played first base), and one other who honestly I can’t remember now.

My brother, Richard, and I spent countless afternoon after school and on the weekend playing baseball games in the black-topped parking area of my parents’ motel, where we grew up, or in the grassy, V-shaped vacant lot next door to my Aunt Marie and Uncle Dale’s home.  I would lay out the batting line up with my frayed-edge baseball cards for whatever teams we would be pretending to be at the time. Then, the two of us would take turns at bat while the other pitched, fielded and played the bases.  Sometimes, friends would join us for a game of ‘work-’em up’.  Wonder if kids today still play baseball that way, rotating around the positions to ‘work up’ to bat.

In Los Angeles, we played softball on Sunday afternnoons. Sometimes I pitched.
In Los Angeles, we played softball on Sunday afternnoons. Sometimes I pitched.

For a girl, especially in the pre-Title 9 days, I was a pretty darn good. It helped that I was a tomboy and had some natural athletic ability. My early vacant lot training days served me well when I started to play first base or pitch on my church softball summer teams as a teenager.  I still have a little scar on my knee from the night that I slid into first base and was called safe. I even have a trophy, now broken and stowed in a box somewhere, from the summer my team won the church league championship. And I recently found in my parents’ possessions, the well-worn ball glove that I used although I replaced it with a newer, better mitt.

My ball gloves and Yankee cap wait for a day of baseball.
My ball gloves and Yankee cap wait for a day of baseball.

When I lived in Arizona, I played on my newspaper staff’s slow pitch softball team in the city league.  I think I covered first base. My husband, to whom I wasn’t married at the time, was on the pitcher’s mound. We made a pretty good team even then. He likes to tell the story of when I first stepped up to home plate how the outfield moved in, seeing a young woman at bat. But after I lobbed one way behind their heads, they never came in again.

Later, as an adult living in Los Angeles, I organized a Sunday afternoon pick-up softball game with friends and their families that played regularly at a local park. We started with just a couple of youngsters, but, over time, we added several more as our families grew. One friend of mine likes to point out how all the new additions were boys. We continued to play for several years, gathering afterwards for beers and pizza. Those Sunday afternoons are some of my fondest memories now.

The Sunday summer softaball team played pick up games for years.
The Sunday summer softaball team played pick up games for years.

Through the years, I’ve become less of a baseball fan. I frankly always enjoyed playing the game more than watching it. I have lost track of who now plays for “my team” although I still wear my Yankee cap whenever I attend a Mariners-Yankee game even risking beer being ‘accidentally’ spilled on me by an annoying Seattle fan.

While I no longer glue myself to the transistor radio or TV for the World Series, I like the feel of the fans’ excitement and thrill when their team makes it to finals. This year, especially, since two classic teams will take to the field.  Though I’m not a Cubs fan, I’m rooting for them, like so many others, to win the pennant.  Seventy-one years is a long time to wait to make it to the World Series. I hope somewhere, kids sitting in that elementary school classroom get to watch or listen to the game.

A Swedish Birthday Surprise, Relatively Speaking

Birthday surprises usually come in the form of parties or gifts. I’ve received both. But last year for my birthday, I was surprised to learn about a new relative.  And fortunately, it came as a welcomed surprise.

The news arrived not with someone standing on my door, but in the form of a large mailing envelope sent from Sweden. I immediately recognized the return address as that of Bo, cousin to my aunt Marie who was married to my father’s brother, Dale. I’ve known Bo nearly my entire life. His family and my own have become like extended family. I spend time with them whenever I go to Sweden, as I did earlier this summer.

When I opened the envelope from Bo, I expected to find a birthday card, but was surprised to find much more.  Inside was a letter that read:  “As you are very like Pippi Longstocking in many ways there is some connection to her in you I must say…As the author Astrid Lindgren who wrote the book is a kind of relative to your mother.” Along with the letter was a family tree linking my mother to the Swedish author as a fourth cousin.  My mother’s fourth cousin?

The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.
The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.

What a discovery! Astrid Lindgren is one of Sweden’s most treasured authors. Her books about the freckled-faced, pig-tailed girl, Pippi Longstocking, has become a children’s classic throughout the world. Her books have been translated into 70 languages and made into several films and television series. There is even an Astrid Lindgren’s World, a children’s theme park and a popular family destination located outside Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby.

Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.
Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.

Lindgren herself was honored last year when her picture was placed on the 20 Swedish kronor, replacing that of another beloved Swedish children’s writer, Selma Lagerlöf. Bo had enclosed one of the freshly printed bills inside my letter. In addition, Lindgren and the characters from her books became the subject of a set of shiny silver commemorative coins.  One of these, along with the folder with spots for the other coins, I also found in Bo’s package. I want to collect the entire set.

Children's author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.
Children’s author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.

Having learned about my Lindgren connection, I of course made it a priority on my recent trip, to visit Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby where she was born, where she is buried and where Pippi’s adventures are set. It was a part of my trip to which I was most looking forward.

I drove into Vimmerby mid-afternoon on a Saturday. It was only a 48 minute drive inland from Vastervik, where my husband and I had disembarked from the Gotland ferry. The shops in Vimmerby’s town square had closed at two o’clock. I would not buy any Pippi Longstocking souvenirs to carry home. We strolled into the charming square, empty except for a handful of visitors like ourselves.

Play strutures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby's town square for children to explore.
Play structures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby’s town square for children to explore.

At one end of the square sat the old, mustard-colored Town Hall and opposite is a lovely hotel with patio tables on the porch.  In the center of the square, near the hotel, are several small play structures taken from Lindgren’s books:  a sailing ship,a cottage, Kindergarten-sized children were crawling in and out and climbing up and down in delight.

I meet Astrid LIndgren's lifestize sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmberby, Sweden.
I meet Astrid Lindgren’s life-size sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmerby, Sweden.

On the other side of the square, nearer the Town Hall, is a life-size sculpture of my famous cousin sitting at desk with a typewriter. It felt a little odd to meet my newly found relative in this way, but was quite an honor at the same time.

I next sought out her resting place in the neatly kept, hilltop cemetery. Thanks to some local residents, I found her gravestone, alongside that of her parents and sister. It was a simple stone for such a celebrated figure, quite humble and unassuming. I wondered if it reflected her personality in life.

The famous author's grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.
The famous author’s grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.

As we walked back through the streets of Vimmerby we noted the spots where Pippi and her sidekick, Tommy, had their adventures. Then we headed out to the Lindgren family home, where Astrid was born and lived as a child. The little house is located on a farm known as Näs in Vimmerby.  It stands exactly as it was when Astrid grew up there, having been restored by Lindgren herself. Tours of the house are available almost daily except when closed for the winter from mid-December until March. Unfortunately, we arrived after hours. Had someone been around I might have told them that I was a ‘cousin’ from the U.S., in hopes that they would take pity on me and allow me inside.

In the Exjoibit Jaöö. Lindgrenäs life and achivements are presented for visitors.
In the exhibit hall. Lindgren’s life and achievements are presented for visitors.

Also on the property, owned by the city of Vimmerby, stands a modern glass-walled exhibition hall where her life and achievements are displayed. But again, we were too late and unable to go in. I was disappointed but until only a year ago, I didn’t even know that the woman remembered here was even remotely related to me. Now that I do, I will return the next trip to see both the house and the museum.

Back in Stockholm, three long, large banners hung down from the city’s concert hall.  On two of the red banners were the words: Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with the name and image of the winning author—Meg Rosoff—printed on the center banner. The award is presented annually to presented to authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading promoters to honor her memory and promote interest in children’s and young adult literature. It is the largest such literature award in the world.

Banners of this year's Astird Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockolm's Concert Hall.
Banners of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.

Lindgren’s apartment  in Stockholm where she lived for 61 years, is also open for tours but reservations must be made in advance. Even though we were unable to secure reservations, Bo accompanied me to apartment. The apartment itself looks out over a large park, Vasa Park, bustling with children. Lindgren would be pleased, I’m sure, to hear their gleeful shrieks and young laughter outside her window.

Next time I visit Sweden, I will return to these places for an inside tour. For now, however, I have the commemorative coins Bo sent to me and the 20 kronor bills that I collected and carried home to share with my family. How many people can say that their cousin appears on their national money? What a birthday surprise that was!