Off To College We Go

August 20th, 2014
Off to college 4 low rez

Taylor gives her sister Skye a huge hug as we say our goodbyes.

Can you hear that?

A deep, loud, echoing, quiet resounds through the house. My baby daughter — the one who was so small, she used to sleep sideways on the pillow next to me during naps — has up and gone away to college.

She’s much taller than me now, and sleeping three hours away instead of on that long discarded pillow. That evil, wicked institution known collectively as “Higher Learning” has snapped her up in its jaws and probably won’t spit her out for four more years (or until she comes home over Labor Day).

I bless our oldest daughter who knew we’d need some comforting. She flew in to stay with us for a few weeks before jetting off to study abroad this fall.

Off To School We Go triptychBut I can feel my fatherly duties slipping away. Well, not slipping away but changing. For the past 20 years I’ve been there by their side, cooking, cleaning, nurturing. I did it pretty darn well (except for those ugly months in the hospital back in the Dark Ages). That’s a role I took a lot of pride in. Sure, I’ve been a photographer, writer, teacher and husband, but it seems like the things I did best, just enrolled in Growing Up U.

I feel like I got hit by a Mack Truck (or at least a MacBook).

Before she left, I made a surprise for her dorm room. They were pictures almost two decades old. I found them in our files of her as a little kid. With humor and love, I combined words of advice and made little inspirational posters for her wall. They were beautiful and touching. And they kept falling down. No matter what kind of newfangled adhesive hooks I used, my advice just didn’t hold up. No metaphors there; my advice didn’t stick. The past fell down behind her bed.

Now we have to rely on her. Well actually, she has to rely on herself. Sure, we’re the safety net and financial backers of her latest scheme to mature. But a lot of this she’ll have to do on her own.

I’ll have to do a lot of things on my own too. Instead of using the excuse that my first and greatest role is “Father,” I’ll have to find other roles to fulfill. Maybe they are roles that already exist; anybody need anything edited, photographed, written or taught? Inquire within.

Maybe there are new roles out there requiring a humorist or blogger, sports fan or public speaker. Heck, let me know if anyone has a job opening requiring you to eat pizza and watch the Tigers. My rates are very reasonable. Anchovies need not apply.

Another job teaching journalism has fallen through, but journalism has sort of fallen through too. I have every confidence that something new and cool, bright and shiny will pop up ahead of me. Just as I have every confidence that my daughter will thrive in school.

Both of us are learning new roles and on new adventures. Hopefully we’ll both have the right books, pens and highlighters in place. I’ll do my best to pay attention in class. No late night partying for me. And speaking of that …

Here’s one final thought: I have no other place to put this, but it’s too important to ignore. I’ve been wondering for the last little while what crazy, nutty residency/housing board in the 1960s came up with my daughter’s dorm name?

Off to college 2 low rez

Taylor stands in front of her new campus dorm. Yeah, we thought so too.

A Minor Achievement

August 3rd, 2014

Catching some class A baseball (and Triple A ball as well)

A Minor Achievement - Midland Loons small

Scott Curtis gets swallowed by Lou E. Loon at Midland’s Dow Diamond.

“Mancation.” That’s what my brother Scott called it. It was our vacation designed just to do guy things. We golfed a little, laughed a lot and took batting practice on random fields we found along the way before getting kicked out.

Sure, there was a small bit of gambling and an impossibly large basket of bacon that we left half-finished on a table somewhere in Mid Michigan. But the real reason for our trip was to visit Minor League baseball fields around the state and in Ohio.

Cousin Chris, brother Scott and I had been talking about it for a while, so when Chris found a spate of games that all lined up — with the teams at home — we took off. Our itinerary included the Great Lakes Loons in my old Midland stomping grounds. Next up was a noon game played by the Lansing Lugnuts, followed by an evening contest played by the West Michigan Whitecaps in Grand Rapids. We’d end our saga the following night watching the Toledo Mud Hens play.

I don’t think we ever paid more than 11 bucks for a ticket and we basically could’ve sat anywhere. My daring cousin and brother tested that theory by sitting as close to the field as they could without actually putting on a uniform. In Lansing it seemed like we were sitting right in the on deck circle. It was so close that scaredy cat here had to move a row back, using Scott as a human shield while I worked on my enGROSSing hotdog topped with mac & cheese and french fries on a pretzel bun.

Did I mention that eating was important on this trip? We each came up with places to dine ahead of time. In the final tally — Toledo’s Tony Packo’s Cafe, made famous by Corporal Klinger on M*A*S*H — edged out Grand Rapid’s Anna’s House and their #1 Breakfast in Michigan as our favorite. There’s a complicated voting process that Chris does on all his trips. It’s based on NCAA brackets and we’ve determined everything from the best experience we’ve had on vacation to whom in the extended family was going to marry next. The brackets don’t lie!

Minor League ballparks like to keep everything family-friendly, so there are always mascots roaming the stands or strange activities between innings. Mark your calendars; coming up on August 15th, the Loons and the Whitecaps are going to feature — I kid you not — a cowboy monkey rodeo. I was about to tell you about a “rat screen Friday” in Lansing but I misread the minutiae. Turns out it’s flat screen Friday, but with these stadiums, anything’s possible.

The one promotion they should have, though, is “Pay Your Players Better” day. Baseball players on Minor League teams are paid below poverty-level wages. They make lousy paychecks until when/if they get to the Big Leagues. I’m sure all the fans wouldn’t mind paying an extra buck per ticket if they knew the players were getting the money. Lord knows we simply couldn’t ask the owners to pay a little better and maybe not give away as many rat screens.

Regardless, if you like baseball, you really should spend some time in a Minor League park. There are four, alone, here in Michigan; we missed catching a Traverse City Beach Bums contest. Next trip, next time.

It was fantastic bonding with my brother and cousin. Next time we hope our other siblings will come along too. And this was an absolutely zany thought, coming from my cousin, “you know, I’ll bet our wives would like this as well.”

Hmmm … when did I say the cowboy monkey rodeo was scheduled?


A Minor Achievement - Lansing Lugnuts small

Testing the theory that “you can practically sit anywhere,” Chris Turner and Scott Curtis sit — if not on deck — then definitely in the hole at Cooley Law School Stadium, home of the Lansing Lugnuts.


A Minor Achievement - West Michigan Whitecaps small

Franky the Swimming Pig poses with Scott and Chris at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps.


A Minor Achievement - Toledo Mud Hens small

A crescent moon rises over the Toledo Mud Hens’ Fifth Third Field.


Door County

July 26th, 2014

Island hopping with Cousin Dick

Island Hopping Lighthouse

Driving 12 hours from Detroit, we crossed a drawbridge onto the island. Then we took a car ferry to the next island. Finally, we rode a small passenger ferry to this remote rock. If we want to go any further, it’ll be by kayak or backstroke.

Standing at the tippy top of the lighthouse, my daughter Skye points out Escanaba, a zillion miles across the bay. Either that or she’s eyeing the enormous spider. It’s about six hours from here to Escanaba; the spider’s six inches away.

It’s a bit strange standing here at Death’s Door, so labeled because of the treacherous passageway that has claimed many a seafaring vessel. Door County Wisconsin, named after Death’s Door, is a curious mix of rural farmland, super upscale summer homes and a healthy schmattering of quaint little towns with quaint little galleries. “Tourist traps” cousin Dick calls ‘em. It reminds me of what Cape Cod might have looked like 50 years ago.

Island Hopping Dick Leonard

My dad’s cousin, Dick Leonard, is a cool, seasoned world-traveler.

A series of islands and bays make up this peninsula jutting off into Lake Michigan, separating it from Green Bay. Cousin Dick spends a lot of his time here. The not-quite-80-year-old is the only one we know who remains on my father’s side of the family. We have recently become reacquainted, fortunately. He graciously opened his home to our invading throng, (all ten of us, when in the past, the most he’s hosted was two!).

After leaving the two northernmost islands along Death’s Door, I am regaled by my cousin’s stories. He has traveled the world over, including a trip to Antarctica last fall. This fall, he will outdo himself with an early-morning balloon trip over the Serengeti. Did I mention he’s almost 80? My journey in the minivan to get here pales somewhat in comparison.

But I had no real preconceived notions about what this trip would hold. I felt it would be more about the journey, as opposed to the destination. Sure, my brother and I wanted to hear stories about Dad from way back when. But something fascinating began to happen. Dad’s stories gave way to Dick’s stories. Somehow he became more fascinating to us than our long lost father.

Maybe it’s because he’s still thriving. Educated in economics at Harvard, he thought he’d become a lawyer. But his own father’s illness pushed him to become a doctor. His deceased wife was a high level ad executive, living the Mad Men life as a woman. Remember Peter Pan peanut butter being “the pea-nuttiest?” That was one of her many slogans. I still sing the jingle in my head.

Island Hopping Forest Art

We visited during the Plein Air (art out in the open) Festival and found some fun outdoor installations including a mermaid, owl, fish and a “mowman.”

On the last night at his place, we spent time stargazing at the eye-popping display above us. In sweats and socks I stumbled across the sand down to his beach to see if I might snap the Big Dipper rising above his house. Fiddling around with my camera and bracing it against an incongruous pole that had sprouted up in the sand, I got lucky and scored Ursa Major.

Looking closely afterward, I couldn’t believe I’d also captured the binary stars in her handle, the horse and rider — Mizar and Alcor for you star buffs.

Dad loved looking at the stars. He loved sailing and flying too. It turns out his cousin is a lot like him in those respects. We caught various glimpses of our father in his cousin. But no, we weren’t looking for a replacement dad. That undercurrent never really surfaced during our time gallivanting around Door County. More importantly, I like that we have made a strong connection with someone who represents both our family’s past and its future. Dick says we’re welcome back any time.

Also — and this can’t be understated — I like that I can now claim I’ve been to Death’s Door both figuratively and literally. The first time around I feared the destination and hated the journey. This time, I bought custard, lots and lots of custard. Whipped cream and hot fudge do wonders for the soul (if not the waistline).

Island Hopping Big Dipper

Ursa Major, The Big Dipper, rises above cousin Dick’s place along the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan.


Driving around, snapping photos

July 18th, 2014

It’s what we used to call feature hunting

Photographing towns

A tiny doggie in downtown Northville entertains kids on their way to an outdoor concert.

Sometimes I simply love being a freelance writer and photographer. This past week was one of those times.

A large company in Southeast Michigan hired me to travel around photographing people, towns and neighborhoods in and about Detroit for the sole purpose of putting them in a brochure to attract potential employees.

I got to put on my photojournalism pants and drive around “making images.” This time  — as opposed to when I was a newspaper photographer — I was only tasked with showing the Good. The Bad and the Ugly could wait for someone else. How fun!

Recovering journalists, like me, can just show up at a situation and portray only what the client wants me to share. I’m okay with that.

Real journalists are tasked with giving a balanced report on their stories. Just this week, another Malaysian plane crashed and a ground war began in Gaza. My heart goes out to the journalists who have to cover that type of news. More so, my heart goes out to those civilians actually living those stories.

For years I photographed fires and tragedy, inhumanity and — ugh, death. It’s so much more enjoyable picturing only the bright side of the human condition. So while I read and witness from afar all the ugliest this world has to offer, I remember how fortunate I am living where I live and covering what I cover.

And yes, I feel guilty for feeling this way. There will always be a part of me that feels as though maybe I should be putting myself on the line to tell the real story. But that guilt quickly evaporated when I pulled into one of the area’s most affluent neighborhoods and two little boys, not more than seven-years-old, waited for me to drive by before shouting, “pecker head.”

The adrenaline surge hit and I was instantly transported back to all the dangerous situations I’ve been in as a journalist, like the pushy crowd gathering around me in Haiti or that semi driver who threatened to put my camera somewhere extremely uncomfortable. Those guys in Boston — who said if I took another picture in the courtroom, they’d make sure it was my last — also flashed in my memory.

Nah, just kidding. Those two little boys made me laugh, especially with the way they said it, “PEKuh head,” with a pronounced lisp.

But don’t tell that to my freelance client; I’m trying to put in for a little extra combat pay.

Back in the day, we called driving around aimlessly taking photographs “feature hunting.” Most photographers grew to hate it since that meant it was a slow news days and there wasn’t enough stuff for the next day’s paper.

We liked to whine a lot back then.

Give me a “fluff” piece any day to write or photograph. But what do I know; I’m just a pecker head, but at least I’m a happy one.

Photographing towns 2

The fountain spray on Belle Isle doesn’t have far to go before mixing with low hanging clouds.