Monday, December 24, 2012

The Mayor and the numbers: Builders' luncheon

When will the recession end, and what is the shortest path to the future? At the 2012 year-end meeting of the Builders Association, members heard a range of views from men who are close the the problems and, possibly, the solutions.

Another sold-out crowd in the 16th-floor gala of the Trump International Hotel & Tower

One of the headline speakers was Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel credited the city's construction community with being a key part of the economic turnaround.

After the Mayor, the builders heard from Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC America. He filled his presentation with figures about the economy's recent past and possibilities for its future.

At the day's conclusion, each B.A. member had to decide for himself how to proceed in 2013. The choices they make will determine much of the future of one of the world's most spectacular skylines.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Strollers in the Front 5K, Chicago

A group of stroller-pushers completes their 5K while the festival area teems with finished (and famished) racers.

I've covered plenty of races...but I've never seen one like this before.

The Strollers in the Front 5K is exactly what it sounds like: a race where people pushing strollers automatically start at the front of the pack, and strollerless runners have to begin in the back. The event was organized by the Neighborhood Parent Network and Event360 on a cool but gusty morning during Halloween weekend at Chicago's Montrose Beach, and hundreds of parents of infants and toddlers came out for a "stroller derby."

The pre- and post-race festival included youth soccer...

...and face-painting.

Four-wide groups like this may have been hard to maneuver around...

...but Dan "Mr. Incredible" Cushman managed to. Seen here near the end of the starting pack, Cushman beat every other runner to the finish. 

The kiddie races had plenty of exciting finishes...

...but Danny Shuck did not think the awards ceremony was much to look at.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Seth, Alice and the secret identity

Seth and Alice told me that the journey of their first pregnancy has been a pleasure, even as they go through it.
"We're laughing a lot during the pregnancy," Seth told me — a story that his wife corroborated. "As much as your nerves get the best of you, the baby's made us laugh a lot."

The couple know their child's gender and have a name picked out, but aren't announcing either. Both said that autumn is their favorite time of year, and that they are feeling a multitude of emotions as the fall day when their lives will be permanently changed approaches.
"Words that would describe the feeling include 'excited,' 'scared,' 'determined'..." Seth began, "...and 'faithful.'"

I photographed them on the campus of Concordia University, where Alice studied.
(They asked for outdoor shots around the campus — and a nice soft cloud provided some wonderfully diffuse sunlight — but as we walked through the main hall, I had to pose them in the beautiful lobby)

Seth attended the University of Illinois, and met Alice in 2000.
"She became my best friend first," he recalled. "After that...that was it."

Although they are keeping the baby's identity undercover — and although they are enjoying the ups and downs of a first pregnancy — Seth and Alice said they are looking forward to the day when they will have some big news to share with their loved ones.
"And what could be bigger," Alice said, "than sharing a child with the world?"

Facebook gallery

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rob and Colleen: what it looks like

This is what hard-earned, well-deserved loyalty looks like.

Robert and Colleen said their vows recently during an outdoor service on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland — a ceremony that remained, technically, outdoors after the minister moved the proceedings under the hotel patio's awning.

We all knew that the 5:30 p.m. start was going to be steamy, but the forecast that morning called for partly cloudy skies and only a slight chance of rain. The heat was no problem for the couple: both are athletes (Rob has finished the Boston Marathon), so both can make themselves comfortable in climates that average folks find insufferable.

The Annapolis Ice Cream Company kept the crowd brain-frozen.

A lot of family and friends came out, and they sat down in the sun to watch the union happen. I was already impressed: At most outdoor weddings, a few guests stray inside the dining hall for some air conditioning, or at least under a tree for some shade. It looked to me like either Robert or Colleen meant a lot to each member of the audience.

The ceremony began — and that was when a single, menacing storm cloud moved east from behind the hotel's roof. The audience, facing the bay, could not see what was coming…they just saw the suddenly vexed look on the groom's face.

Robert, vexed.

I say this without exaggeration: The first raindrop fell exactly as the first bridesmaid began her walk down the aisle. Watermarks start appearing on the gentlemen's shoulders, and the ladies started covering their hair with their programs. A few well-prepared guests, who must have read a more recently updated forecast than mine, pulled out umbrellas.

No one got up.

Colleen walked out...and the sky opened at the same moment. As Robert watched his bride coming toward him, I'm not certain that all the wet spots on his face were raindrops.

After a minute of steady precipitation, a few guests got up and took shelter. I remained impressed: So many of these people cared more about Robert and Colleen's moment than their own comfort.

But halfway through the already-abbreviated proceedings, steady rain turned into a downpour, and the minister instructed everyone — especially the bride, who had been standing under an umbrella held by her groom — to move under the hotel's large awning behind them.

It was dry, but everyone had to crowd in, and it was plenty steamy. On the opposite side of the banquet room's glass doors, air-conditioned and spacious comfort with a view of the couple was available.

No one took advantage. Through heat, rain and shoulder-to-shoulder herding, Robert and Colleen were surrounded by family and friends who displayed the kind of loyalty one does not see often.

I'm glad I did.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Doug and Kimmie: unscripted

Doug knew a year ago what Kimmie wanted, but he was not going to offer it until he knew that he wanted the same thing. The test of time came...and went...and when Doug knew that he was going to be in love with Kimmie forever, he knew it was time to move on the the next act in the screenplay that will be their life together.

It took 4.5 years for Doug, a Chicago native, to propose to his college sweetheart. Kimmie says that she knew "forever ago" that he was the one for her, but added that this certainty gave her the patience to wait for Doug to be as sure.

She admits that some days were harder to wait through than others.

"It probably didn't help that I was nagging him," she confessed. "When did the really bad nagging start?"

"A year ago?" Doug offered.

The attraction started about five years ago...for Doug, anyway. The two met through mutual friends during their freshman year at Western Illinois University; Kimmie was seeing someone else at that time, and Doug was "just doing my own thing."

Doug was attracted to Kimmie's intelligence (she was already on her way to becoming the teacher she is now) and her laid-back attitude, but there were two problems: The other guy, and the fact that Kimmie was seriously not into Doug at all.

"She thought I was annoying," he said.

"Very much so," she added.

They have staring contests — and Kimmie knows she is doomed to lose.
Doug can perform bizarre feats of physical prowess with his eyeballs.

But during their sophomore year, they both became resident assistants in dormitories that shared a cafeteria (Doug at Henninger, Kimmie at Bayliss). Then Kimmie dumped the other guy.

"That's when I made my move," the patient young man said.

Kimmie needed time to get acclimated to Doug's approach.

"She kind of has to know you before she'll start acting stupid," is the way Doug put it.

"I felt like he would never shut up," is Kimmie's version. "Now, it works perfectly for us."

Doug also attempts feats of physical prowess on fire hydrants and bicycle racks.
His skills have a diminished impact on Kimmie here.

Kimmie pauses for a moment, and considers: What was it about Doug that won her over?

The pause becomes a long look.

"I don't know," and a giggle, is the answer.

Maybe they saw in each other someone else who wanted to make the world a better place (Doug studied law enforcement and criminal justice), though they took different approaches to that common goal. Or maybe it was something else that neither studied, though both loved: cinema.

The two started dating...and that was where the plot lost its pace for a while.

"I had a couple of requirements," Doug said, the first being that both had to graduate college, a criterion that was years away from fulfillment when they became a couple. "I didn't want to rush."

Kimmie played her role through more scenes that she expected — but early this summer, her boyfriend finally went off-script. In the moment of improvisation she had waited for, Doug asked her to share the screen with him for life.

Now in production, The Doug and Kimmie Movie will be released on July 13 at an as-yet-undetermined location in McHenry, where her family hails from.

"The real question is: 'What's our rating?'" Doug asked.

Look for yourself, but this pair is likely to get stuck with PG-13.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

No stopping Eric, Christie, the twins, and the new twins

The forecast for the morning of my next family portrait assignment called for rain. My next assignment didn't care — they thought that rain would be good for playing in. Could be good for candids, they told me.

"That would make for some cute pictures, I think," Eric, the father, told me.

"If it's warm rain, let's go for it," Christie, the mother, responded.

"Whatever happens, happens," Eric said, smiling.

"All right," Christie answered.

It would not be a warm rain, but this family's energy could not be stopped. I liked my new assignment.

We ventured off to The Chicago Botanic Garden on one of the last cold, rainy mornings before this summer's hot and dry drought, and made the best of it.

Eric and Christie learned to embrace "action-adventure" parenting quickly — having two sets of twin will drive that into you.

On the other hand, they generate some of the action themselves: they put their 5-year-old boys and 2-year-old son and daughter to bed with CDs that play "lullaby versions" of Metallica and Led Zeppelin. When I stopped by their home for our pre-shoot interview, I should have asked them to play me a few; "Enter Sandman" is a fine title for a lullaby, but I have not yet imagined how the musicians converted "Hush little baby, don't say a word...and nevermind that noise you heard" into something that will soothe and comfort children.

Eric with his little girl...

...and Eric with his main girl.

Eric and Christie married in 2000, after meeting at their workplace. Eric is in the health industry; Christie became interested in accounting in high school, where a vibrant teacher brought the subject to life for her. The two worked at the same biotech firm, and her beauty captured his attention.

The family first expanded with the addition of Moose and Rocko, the calm, wise old beagles who supervise the action upstairs whenever Eric and Christie have to referee an air hockey dispute or sort out a toy-car accident scene in the downstairs playroom. Rocko and Moose are brothers from the same litter.

"We seem to do everything in pairs," Christie says.

The boys were fascinated with walking on anything that was not the path.

Both of the human pairs are fraternal, and all are old enough to start showing personalities. Their house is now host to athletic, techie and tomboy traits.

Christie found a moment for herself in the garden.

All this growing means a lot of going: swimming lessons, bicycle lessons, kindergarten preparations and more. That's not enough, though — the kids still have energy to burn. Tag is a serious sport in this house, and Henry, the youngest son, loves getting caught.

"They'll pile on him, and he'll just laugh," Eric said.

"This family takes it one day at a time," Christie added. "It is chaos."

"Good chaos," Eric said. "Lots of wrestling, tackling and tickling."

If this is what chaos looks like...chaos looks good.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Senseless Display of Talent

You won't know these kids until you know their work.

Anna, program director, prepares the copies of "Senseless,"
the sparkling cider and her speech for the crowd at the unveiling party

Open Books, Chicago's non-profit literacy center, uses a wide spectrum of programs to teach youths and adults how to read. One of those programs is ReadThenWrite, an immersive, months-long project in which a group of students read a book together, then write original stories based loosely on one of the themes from that book. Once the kids' tales are finished, Open Books has them printed as a collection, making the students real authors of a real book.

Selected readings from the authors

The first semester of ReadThenWrite ended this winter, and Open Books brought its graduates to their bookstore for the unveiling of their just-printed collection of stories. Each writer's tale focused on a world in which the entire population lost one of the five senses; the students decided for themselves which sense their Earth would be without.

Signing the "Senseless" plaque...

They named their collection "Senseless."

Each story takes the shared theme in a unique direction. A few are set in the modern day, others in the future; some involve magic, others military experiments; some take an optimistic approach to humanity coping with the loss of a sense, while others foresaw a dystopian outcome.

...and receiving the copies of the finished product

With sparkling cider in their hands, this group of young writers
is grateful that the world has not lost its sense of taste.

Come to Open Books and read these kids' work — and gain a better "sense" of who the writers behind the stories really are.