30 Day Photo Challenge

Posted: July 1, 2011 in The Challenge

A few weeks ago I told my friend Bobby that I had sold all of my camera equipment except for a small compact camera. After much discussion about why I did this and all of the emotion wrapped up in my photography, he challenged me to a 30 day photo challenge and I accepted. Over the next 30 days I will capture moments in my daily life and blog about my favorite photo from the day.



Posted: November 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

In times of death, words are virtually useless. Family members are stricken with grief and are surrounded by well meaning friends who offer condolences which are often more aggravating than comforting. Mourning the loss of a daughter, mother, father, son, brother or sister is something only those experiencing it can understand. After the first few “sorrys” and “call if you need anything” the grieving sometimes wish everyone would shut up and go away. A loss of this magnitude is deeply personal and individual and no one on the outside can truly grasp the depth of the sorrow of the moment. Grieving may be a human experience, but each human and family grieve is very different and intimate ways.

Rather than write a blog about how “sorry” I am for the loss of Lauren Skillman, I am going to write about how she changed my life. While I hope someday the family reads this, it is not as much for them as it is my way of dealing with the profound sense of loss in my heart. Lauren Skillman was to me in many ways simply Melanie’s daughter. Until recently, I was not an intimate personal friend of Lauren and knew comparatively little of Lauren outside of her early struggles with cancer. When Alex first began working for Melanie, Lauren was still a teenager and a rowdy one at that. Like so many brilliant artists, Lauren was internally very conflicted and that conflict manifested in her rambunctious behavior. Ironically, it was the stubborn and rambunctious spirit which kept her alive far longer than anyone else who has suffered from the type of cancer which ultimately took her life.

Lauren’s struggle with deadly cancer is not terribly unusual in some ways. Struck down just as she began her adult life, Lauren garnered the sympathy of hundreds if not thousands of friends and followers who came to be known as “LaLa’s Soldiers.” Thanks to social networking, Lauren’s story spread far and wide as people all over the United States learned of her struggle. Lauren had developed a very rare form of child hood cancer from which no one survived. Because of the type of cancer and despite her age, Lauren was treated at Cook Children’s Medical Center by a physician who studied at the Mayo Clinic which was the leader in nerve sheath tumor treatment. Lauren was in many ways still a jubilant child inside and drew from the positive energy that flows through the halls of Cook. In retrospect, being treated at a children’s hospital was likely a key factor in her recovery and living longer than expected.

In my 21 years of working in healthcare, I have witnessed my fair share of death, both immediate and protracted. Medicine has advanced a great deal, but the one constant that seems to extend the lives of those stricken is their willingness to fight. I never gave much thought to just how brave fighters like Lauren are until I considered how I would react to a terminal diagnosis. I can say with little doubt that if I were facing the same diagnosis that Lauren faced, I most likely would have given up out of sheer panic and terror. Perhaps I would regain some composure and fight, but Lauren did so much more than simply fight a deadly disease, she mastered it. What separates Lauren from me and many others is how she bravely fought and controlled certain death until the very end.

One trait that Lauren expressed in her life and in her fight was an unwillingness to be pushed around, bullied or otherwise told what to do. As you can imagine, in parenting this made for difficult times, but the unwillingness to be directed by others is exactly why Lauren was able to live as long as she did. Make no mistake, when Lauren was first diagnosed all those months ago, for any other person it would have been a rapid death sentence. It is very difficult to put into words the intangible zest for life that Lauren exhibited. It is not so much that she was the proverbial life of the party as much as it was her unwillingness to let life steer her. There can be no doubt that Lauren was always the one driving the ship. If there were ever a person who embodied Farragut’s famous “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead” is was Lauren Skillman.

It is this insistence of living life on her terms which I hope to leave you with today. Lauren lived in 21 years more life than many live in an entire lifetime. Lauren lived each moment to the fullest in anticipation of the next. Certainly she experienced all the same worries, fears, frustrations and anxieties that we all face, but she was able to interweave her brand of living with them all. It is difficult to say what Lauren’s life may have looked like had she never been diagnosed with cancer. I doubt she would have led a typical life by comparable standards because she simply was not typical in any way. What I can say for certain is that in her illness and death she truly taught others how to live. How often do we hear that in eulogies only to wonder if it were true? Friends, I can assure you that it is very true of Lauren Skillman. God speeds sweet angel!

I added the photo above because I felt like it was a pictorial way to describe the Skillman-Wilson journey. Lauren being the ray of sunshine guiding the family across the next bridge of life. On the other end of that bridge is sunlight to guide their way along the road. There is no cliche, no thought, no blog nor any eulogy which can ease the pain right away but in time wounds will begin to heal and those rays of light will permeate many people. Lauren’s zeal for living will go on forever and ever!

Well today is my 39th birthday and it has been uneventful so far except for almost killing myself on Angie the miniature metal turkey this morning. You might ask, who is Angie? Angie the miniature metal turkey is Beyonce the giant metal chicken’s cousin. Now you might ask, who is Beyonce? Well, besides a superstar, Beyonce is my wife’s newest obsession but apparently she is not alone.

The story, as is typical when Alex is involved, is long. Alex discovered a blog a few months back written by the Blogstress. Apparently, one of the Blogstresse’s blogs was about her not being allowed to purchase bath towels by her husband so in retribution she brought home a 5’ metal chicken, named in Beyonce and placed it in front of the entrance to her home. I am not sure why my wife and so many others find this so funny, but all I hear about these days is metal chickens and every time I tell her she cannot purchase something she threatens me with a giant metal chicken.

So, this morning I awoke, showered, dressed and prepared to leave for work. As I went to the front door, I saw something unusual outside the door. Having just been broken into a few weeks ago, I panicked thinking someone had tried again. I quickly opened the door and saw what you see in the above photo. Yellow streamers and an iron turkey with a birthday greeting. According to the note, Beyonce the giant metal chicken missed her flight, I presume because of Tropical Storm Lee, so she sent Angie the miniature metal turkey who is her cousin instead. Since Angie does not understand personal space, she was sitting right in front of the door causing me to almost trip.

Upon greeting Angie, I retired to our bedroom and awoke my wife to seek an explanation. Alex gave me the Alex look, Gulliver gave me the “who me” look, Dutchess wanted kisses and Fenway just looked at me with a “turn off the damn lights, I am sleeping” look. Obviously, I was amused at Angie’s arrival but have made it clear that if a 5’ metal chicken shows up, Alex is sleeping on the porch with it.

So now it is off to my 40th. My theme for the next year is “A Pirate Looks At 40”!! I hope next year Alex does not try to place a giant metal pirate boat in front of the door. Likewise, I cannot promise that Angie will not somehow be turned into dinner come Thanksgiving. Angie is iron, so that might need to creative thinking, but I will always remember my 39th birthday as the metal turkey birthday!

For the past 2 summers, I have promised Dutchess Bull that I would taker her swimming at Grandma Debbie’s house. Several years ago we used to take Dutchess and Bogie swimming frequently. Dutchess was and still is a very good swimmer and Mr. Bogie was an amazing diver, but not such a strong swimmer. For no particularly good reason, we have not taken the babies swimming over the past 2 summers, but today that changed. Taking Dutchess was truly old hat, as she loves to swim, but taking the Bostons was a new adventure. Alex did take Fenway swimming last summer, but only briefly and he seemed to dislike it. That is still true.

Once we arrived at Grandma’s to swim, Dutchess took to the water and never missed a lick. She has slowed a little since she is older, but is still a very good swimmer. The boys were a different story. Gulliver attempted to swim, but basically just slapped at the water and refused to use his back legs. Gulliver would drown if left alone. Fenway was no better, but did not seem to enjoy even making an effort. Luckily, we had a plan B. This past weekend we picked up a cheap inflatable boat at the mall. Now the boat says sweet girl on it, but we just figured the boys would not care. Fenway loved the boat. We put him in it and he just floated around like he was at a resort. Since we only had one boat, Alex, Whitley and I took turns holding Gulliver as he floated on a smaller floatie. Gulliver loved to float half in the water and at one point appeared to be falling asleep in Whit’s arms. Whitley was very good with the boys in the pool.

We all swam, floated and chased invisible monster for about 1 hour and then decided to call it a day. Dutchess had a blast and got some good exercise. The boys discovered their secret calling is to be lounge puppies at a resort. They seemed to suggest a cabana boy and puptail were in order for next time. I on the other hand was an anxious wreck, worrying myself to death over nothing. Alex was her normal steely self and as she predicted, all turned out OK. Dutchess and the boys are now back home sleeping after their big adventure. Oooh what a day!

You might wonder what a wayward turtle and cupcakes have in common? This past weekend Alex and I had one amazing weekend. Friday we went to Three Dog Bakery in Southlake and ordered up some new treats for the fur babies. After procuring puppy happiness, we spent a little time shopping at Grapevine Mills followed by dinner at Buca di Beppo. Since having my Lap Band, I cannot eat the portions Buca serves, but I was in luck now that they serve two different portion sizes. My favorite entree there is pizza! Surprised? Probably not!

Saturday we woke up and after spending some time with the babies, decided to head up to the shopping area off of Heritage Trace in north Fort Worth. With the exception of an “incident” at Sam Moon, we had a great time. We did some more shopping at JC Penney’s and for the first time in many years I was able to fit into a 2X shirt. Now, the 2X was not flattering but it did fit. It is the little things like this that make having my Band worth it. Before we shopped we ate lunch at Olive Garden and had a wonderful waiter named Hedey. His name he told us was Brazilian, but he was Mexican. Hedey was one of the nicest servers we have had in some time. I always try to call servers by their name and make sure they know that the service they provide is both appreciated and important.

After lunch and shopping, we left JC Penney and on the drive out, we saw the little guy in the above photo. I am not sure where he came from since there was no water nearby. Alex, me and another nice family spent some time snapping photos and getting chased around by Mr. Turtle, but eventually we decided the best thing to do was to put him on the other side of a work fence as far from the road as possible. I hope Mr. Turtle made it home wherever that is. After rescuing the wayward turtle, we enjoyed the sweets you see pictured above from Sweet Spot Bakery. Honestly, the ding dong concoction was a little too sweet for me, but the red velvet cupcake was good and the place decorated very cutely.

After we finished our sweets, we did some more shopping and came home to spend some time with our babies. We were home for a few hours until time to leave to meet our friends at the Royal Falcon Pub. We spent several hours at the Royal Falcon learning about sordid affairs, rumours and other generally good gossip (God forgive me). Around 2 A.M. we finally made it home and after enduring an hour or so of puppynami, we all finally went to sleep. What an amazing couple of days with my best friend in the entire world!

Date Night!!

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Allie, Spice of Life

Tonight was a truly great night. After Alex came home, she and I drove up to Southlake and purchased some goodies from our friends at Three Dog Bakery. We had hoped they would have the shin bones which our fur babies LOVE, but alas they were out. Since we did not find the shin bones, we opted to drive over to Pets Mart and found some chew bones which were just about as good. After finishing the puppy shopping we decided to go to Grapevine Mills Mall to see Legoland and do some shopping. To my chagrin, we arrived and Legoland was closed, but the aquarium across the way was open. We did not go today, but plan on attending soon on another date.

Since the aquarium was closed, we decided to do a little clothes shopping. I took an entire set of photos I titled Mall Walk inside Forever 21 and a few other places. I truly enjoy shopping with Alex because seeing her buy new clothes makes her very happy and inspires her to work hard at WW. After shopping we walked around a little and decided it was time for dinner. Alex and I left the mall and went to Buca di Beppo to eat in Southlake. For those of you who have not eaten at Buca you are missing out. Even though I have a Lap Band, I can still eat their thin crust pizza and it is AMAZING.

I posted the above photo because it truly embodies who I am. I am a big kid at heart. I know sometimes, I am very serious about heavy topics like politics and religion, but when I am with my wife I am just me and I LOVE Legos. The last time Alex snapped a photo of me with a lego that I liked, I did not buy it and it was a special purchase so I missed out. This time, my birthday is coming up (HINT HINT) and I really like this lego project.

Well that is all for tonight peeps!

This image is full of contradictions. First the location of the image is quite misleading. When you see this you probably think it is the middle of the country somewhere; however, you would be wrong. On my way to work today, I turned off the interstate and stumbled upon a welcome center for an industrial part. I initially turned into the small center to throw away some trash and was greeted with this windmill, a covered bridge and a beautiful farm house. The ironic part is that this welcome center is smack dab in the middle of the DFW Metroplex far from any “country”.

The second, and for me, more important paradox about this image is how it was taken. As you may know, I used to own thousands of dollars in camera equipment and shot quite a few pageant girls for their commercial ad. pages. I considered this genre of photography to be the Mipinnacle of the art and I so badly wanted to become a fashion photographer. As you may surmise, becoming a successful fashion photographer is a little like becoming a professional athlete. After many years of buying what I thought was the “right” equipment and shooting and never having achieved this goal, I grew frustrated, disappointed and I quit. I sold everything and purchased an inexpensive compact camera to take some happy snaps.

This entire blog is the result of my friend challenging me to step outside my miserable comfort zone and assert myself as an artist. I completed his challenge and I can say that today I confidently consider myself both an artist and a photographer. Now, this is important to this post because one of the major transformations I went through was finally realizing that the equipment does not matter. Certainly, a camera with more feature such as a larger sensor, interchangeable lenses, etc make capturing some shots easier, but not having said features is not an excuse to not make art. The shot I attached was taken with my Samsung camera phone. A mere few weeks ago I would have balked at using my camera phone as a serious tool, but I have since grown to love it as a tool for making art. Which brings me to the name of this post.

Today I added a gentlemen to my Google+ circles who manages a blog called Minimalist Photography 101. The entire point of his blog is to remind people that thousands of dollars worth of equipment and complex post processing software is not needed to make truly amazing art. Having come full circle from a neophyte with a camera, to a wanna be with the best equipment and back to a photographer who sees the camera as a mere tool, his blog really hit home. Now, I have to admit I am enjoying some post processing with Google’s Picnik application, but I do not take pictures with the intent of “fixing” them later.

Well that is all for now. Peace!

Bostons and Marshmallows

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Allie, Family, Fenway, Gulliver


Who knew Boston Terriers LOVE marshmallows? Tonight my beautiful wife was making candy coated marshmallow pops for Miss Texas Outstanding Teen Reilly Johannsen’s homecoming this weekend when mysteriously a marshmallow ended up in the boys’ mouths. I cannot be sure how this happened since neither is tall enough to fetch one from the counter, but I am guessing they put either their daddy or their mommy under some sort of hypnotic spell and “suggested” they try one. Shortly after this extra sensory event, the boys got dressed in their best pirate shirts to pose for photos involving, yes, more marshmallows. Now I cannot be sure how all of this came to happen, but I do know that we currently have 2 Boston Terriers wearing pirate shirts and a few less marshmallows for marshmallow pops. Please stay tuned for the on going saga of the Boston marshmallow thieves!